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Politics

Turkey Demands Greek Islands Sovereignty Added to De-Escalation Talks

Spared sanctions by the European Union, which wanted to give diplomacy a chance, Turkey is insisting that talks over who owns waters around Greek islands also include other issues – such as their sovereignty.

A report on SKAI TV said Greece will not go along and that the exploratory talks aimed at reducing tension over Turkey's plans to drill for energy off Greek islands be limited to maritime borders and Greece's Continental Shelf.

Turkey had previously said it also wanted the demilitarization of Greek islands to be on the table and now wants disputes over airspace, search and rescue limits discussed too.

Turkey has repeatedly violated Greek airspace and waters with fighter jets and warships, claiming parts of Greek territory and rights, with – until now – no intervention by NATO, the defense alliance to which both belong.

“There is the issue of national air space, which they (Greece) have expanded beyond territorial waters, and also the issue of the area of search and rescue,” the unnamed officials were quoted as saying.

The sovereignty of several islands and islets in the eastern Aegean “is also an issue,” they added. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has openly coveted return of a number of Greek islands ceded in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

He doesn't recognize that agreement nor the United Nations Law of the Sea Turkey regularly violates and then occasionally invokes to its advantage, especially after claiming waters around Greek islands.

“We cannot talk about the continental shelf without examining this issue. How can we discuss the issue of the continental shelf when we have doubts about the sovereignty of many islands and islets?” the unnamed officials said, adding they want demilitarization on the agenda too.

That threatens to undermine the talks even before they begin although they haven't even been scheduled and Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis pulled back his demand for sanctions to let talks proceed.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who had admitted he wouldn't get involved in the dilemma because it was too politically sensitive, has now tries teo get the two sides to agree to terms to prevent a conflict.

Greece and Turkey agreed to set up a mechanism to avoid accidental battles or an outright shooting war in the East Mediterranean, he said, adding they had accepted "a bilateral military deconfliction mechanism" that would prevent a military confrontation over the dispute. The agreement includes establishing a hotline for use between senior officials should a confrontation arise.

"I welcome the establishment of a military deconfliction mechanism, achieved through the constructive engagement of Greece and Turkey, both valued NATO allies," Stoltenberg said as part of a NATO statement.

"This safety mechanism can help to create the space for diplomatic efforts to address the underlying dispute and we stand ready to develop it further,” he added, said the German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is home to 2.774 million Turks, blocked sanctions on Turkey and earlier got Erdogan to withdraw an energy research vessel and warships from near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

They had gone there under a maritime deal Turkey signed with Libya, unrecognized by any other country, claiming waters around Greek islands, including Crete.

But he went them back when Greece – which had sent part of its navy to shadow Turkish warships – countered with a similar deal with Egypt, setting seas boundaries, infuriating Erdogan, who called off a first round of talks.

Under growing pressure internationally, and with the EU finally leaning toward sanctions, he withdrew them again and set talks to be held in Ankara, not Athens, and with Turkey trying to set the agenda for what will be discussed.

Turkey is also drilling off Cyprus, which also pulled back demands for sanctions, letting Erdogan walk away from a showdown in Brussels with almost everything he wanted and Greece and Cyprus left with only vows of sanctions if the talks fail. 

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