ATHENS — Unable to convince the European Union to stop Turkish provocations in the seas, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis went on CNN to urge the idea of comity another way.
“My message to Turkey is very simple: stop the provocations and let’s start talking as civilized neighbors,” he said during an interview with Christiane Amanpour at his office.
That came as an extraordinary meeting of EU leaders led them to offer only verbal support and tell him to keep trying dialogue with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who parked an energy ship and 10 warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, planning to hunt for oil and gas.
Mitsotakis also repeated his offer to have the dispute over the seas in waters Greece says are undisputed to be taken up by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, if negotiations fail, as they have repeately.
He said Turkey should stop its aggression in the East Mediterranean and the Aegean and try to talk through the differences, although a planned meeting in Ankara to do that was canceled by Erdogan when Greece abruptly signed a deal with Egypt setting Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the seas between them.
That was a counter to Turkey signing a maritime deal with Libya dividing the waters between them, leading to Turkey drawing up maps claiming parts of Greece's Continental Shelf and planning drilling operations, including off Crete.
“In past year or year and a half there there has been an increased level of provocation by Turkey on several fronts,” said Mitsotakis, an apparent reference to Turkey letting human traffickers keep sending more refugees and migrants to Greek islands and Erdogan converting the ancient church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople into a mosque.
Turkey is supposed to contain nearly 4 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war and strife in their homelands and people leaving sub-Saharan Africa and other regions looking for work in Europe, using Turkey as a jumping-off point to get to the the EU.
Most have wound up stuck on five Greek islands holding more than 34,000 of them among more than 100,000 in the country after the EU closed its borders to them and other countries reneged on promises to take some of the overload.
Mitsotakis said the Greece-Egypt seas deal that set boundaries for energy explorations “could work as a blueprint for other similar agreements” between other nations as well, with the Turkey-Libya deal unrecognized in the world.
But, again repeating Greece won't talk under duress, he said that “cannot happen if we are engaged in saber-rattling, and if we have to every now and then face half the Turkish fleet in the Eastern Aegean.”
He said, “This is not the way to conduct foreign policy if we at least want to support international law and promote good-neighborly relations,” although Erdogan has shown he prefers brute force and is being unchecked by the EU.
He said Greece is handling a second wave of COVID-19 despite a resurgence in cases on islands and with tourists bringing it with them after the country opened its borders to them in July, anxious for critical revenues after a long lockdown.
As a precaution, he said that Greece uses a “sophisticated algorithm” in testing tourists and has imposed additional restrictions after widespread defiance of health protocols led cases to jump, more than doubling the total just in August.
“Greece is a very safe place,” he insisted despite the lockdown of the island of Poros, curfews on Spetses and Antiparos, cases spreading in hospitals and after public gathering that haven't been fully curbed so far.