Greek PM expresses concern over West’s stance towards Turkey

NATO’s neighbors and allies, Greece and Turkey, are at odds over a number of issues, including overland disputes and Cyprus.

The Greek prime minister has said he is concerned that the response of Western powers to Turkish actions is encouraging him to behave unacceptably.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s comments came on Friday after a meeting with outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was in Athens on a last official visit.

“I am afraid that Western composure encourages arbitrary actions by Turkey, and it is time for European principles to become European policy and primarily European practice against those who offend it,” he said.

NATO neighbors and allies Greece and Turkey are at odds over a number of issues, including territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea that divides them, drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean and the ethnically divided island of Cyprus.

“No one is looking for a definitive break in relations between the European Union and Turkey. It would not be something that would be beneficial to Europe or Greece or, ultimately, to Turkey, ”Mitsotakis said.

Turkey has been an official candidate to join the 27-member EU for more than two decades, but relations with the bloc have also been tense of late.

“I believe that Turkey as a NATO member and Turkey as our neighbor should be treated in such a way that we make it clear that it is in our best interest to have reasonable relations with Turkey,” Merkel said. “Even with the disagreements we have, for example, even on human rights issues.”

Germany has stressed in the past that dialogue is key to improving relations with Turkey. Greece insists that it is open to dialogue with its neighbor, but that there must be a similar will on both sides. Turkey has also said it is willing to talk, and the two are engaged in a series of low-level discussions for confidence-building.

“On the one hand, Greece extends a hand of friendship; on the other, Greece will be the first to defend its sovereignty and sovereign rights if it feels that they are being violated in any way, ”said Mitsotakis.

Boiling tensions

Greece and Turkey almost clashed last year when they sent warships to maritime regions they considered their own. Although those scenes have not been repeated, the two countries regularly attack Cyprus, against which Turkey has mounted a constant challenge to prevent the eastern Mediterranean island from exploring offshore for oil and gas.

The internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government of Cyprus has issued licenses for offshore oil and gas exploration, a move Turkey says ignores the rights of the island’s Turkish Cypriot community.

Offshore Exclusive Economic Zones are maritime areas agreed between neighboring states, which define where a country has commercial rights, such as the right to explore for hydrocarbons. Those zones can extend up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coast or, if they share the maritime area with another state, the equidistance between the two.

But in the case of Greece and Turkey, the issue is complicated by disputes over the extent of their continental shelves and the limit of their territorial waters. The dispute has delayed any declaration by Greece to extend its territorial waters to 12 miles (19 km) from 6 miles (9.5 km) in the Aegean.

Mitsotakis said on Friday that Greece would be willing to agree with Turkey on the delimitation of their respective economic zones at sea.

“My door is always open, but this dialogue presupposes a reduction of unnecessary tensions,” Mitsotakis said.

“Greece has signed agreements that define exclusive economic zones with neighboring countries such as Italy, Egypt. There is no reason why we cannot do it with Turkey, as long as tensions ease and we realize that such an approach would eventually be beneficial for both countries, “he added.

Mitsotakis’s comments did not elicit an immediate reaction from Turkey. Ankara has previously said that it is open to discussing maritime delimitation with all countries as long as their rights are respected.

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