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Politics

Mitsotakis Says Willing to Talk to Turkey Over Maritime Zones

ATHENS — While denouncing Turkish provocations in the East Mediterranean and the Aegean, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he's still open to talking with Turkey about the sea boundaries.

After Turkey signed a deal with Libya dividing the seas between them, claiming waters off Greek islands and Turkey planning to drill for oil and gas off Crete, Greece inked an agreement with Italy setting zones in the Ionian.

Despite tension over the Turkey-Libya deal that saw Turkey submit a map to the United Nations claiming sovereignty in waters it disputes, Mitsotakis told an economic form in the Greek capital that,“Greece is always open to a dialogue with Turkey to delimitate the maritime zones,” reported Turkey's state-run Anadolu News Agency.

“We can discuss [it] openly, and if we finally confirm that we cannot agree, there are always ways to refer the issue to the International Court (of Justice) in The Hague on how to solve the problem, but always with absolute respect for international law,” he said according to the report. 

There have been fears of an accidental conflict over the battle for the seas that has seen Turkey claim areas around Greece's Continental Shelf and led Greece's defense chief to say a military response was on the table if needed.

Mitsotakis defended the deal with Italy on maritime boundaries to establish an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between the two countries, stressing it was valid while Turkey's deal with Libya, unrecognized by any other country, is not.

He said “if Turkey attempts to violate our sovereignty rights, it will see a response from not only Greece but also Europe,” although the European Union has shown no appetite to take on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and issued only weak sanctions over Turkish drilling off Cyprus.

“If Turkey is thinking about violating the sovereign rights of the Hellenic Republic, not only will it get a response from Greece, I am pretty sure it will get a response from Europe,” Mitsotakis said.

Mitsotakis said if Turkey instead resorts to gunboat diplomacy that, “It will have serious consequences,” without clarifying what he meant and if that meant the Greek Navy would react to Turkish warships near Greek waters.

Speaking to Turkey’s NTV, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the maritime deal signed between Greece and Italy “has proven the validity of Turkey’s argument on such maritime deals.” 

He said Greece has always believed that the islands also have a continental shelf, not just territorial waters. “We support the opposite,” he said. According to his interpretation “essentially Greece agrees with what we say,” said Kathimerini.

Diplomatic sources not identified told the paper Turkey is speaking out of both sides of its mouth and being contradictory, refusing to recognize the United Nations Law of the Sea except when invoking it in Turkey's favor.

“We are glad that Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mr Mevlut Cavusoglu has expressed his satisfaction on the maritime boundary agreement between Italy and Greece, which fully consolidates the rights of islands to a continental shelf and exclusive economic zone,” a diplomatic source told he paper.

“It means that Turkey is changing the position it has held until today in a way that contradicts its adoption of the illegal Turkey-Libya memorandum,” the source said. “Of course, (Cavusoglu) still tends to have a selective interpretation of international law, particularly of the international Law of the Sea, but we would advise him not to miss the forest for the tree,” the source added.

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