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Greece’s PM Urges Turkey to Talk ‘as Civilised Neighbours’ to Resolve Mediterranean Drilling Spat

The Turkish-Greek tensions over drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean have persisted for many months, escalating earlier in August when Athens demanded that Ankara immediately halt its “illegal” drilling activities in the area.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has told CNN that Athens will not tolerate Ankara’s drilling-related steps in the Eastern Mediterranean, but that it is ready to sit down at the table to discuss the problem.

“My message to Turkey is very simple: stop the provocations and let’s start talking as civilised neighbours”, he said, adding that Athens’ only disagreement with Turkey is the issue pertaining to delimitation of maritime zones.

Mitsotakis pledged that if the proposed talks collapse, the dispute over the waters that Greece says are undisputed would be submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

REUTERS / Murad Sezer

Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz

He pointed out that Athens “cannot put up with the unilateral actions of Turkey”, which challenges Greece’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) “by sending not just an exploration ship but also a significant number of military vessels to the area”.

“If Turkey considers these areas to be disputed and we consider them to be part of the Greek EEZ, they should sit down with us and discuss about it. This is what we have always proposed. What we cannot accept is a fait accompli as a result of Turkish provocation”, the prime minister underscored, vowing at the same time that Greece would “never seek escalation”.

He described the issue as not just a dispute between two immediate neighbours but as a challenge for both Europe and the world as a whole.

“This is why I feel that Turkey is isolating itself as it pursues such a policy”, Mitsotakis said, adding that the US and the EU are already considering slapping sanctions on Ankara,

“Turkey always has the opportunity to change its approach. However, it must realise the fact that if it does not change its attitude, there will be consequences and its relationship with Europe as a whole will be jeopardised. Because problems of this kind cannot remain unanswered […]”, the prime minister concluded.

The interview came a few weeks after the Greek Foreign Ministry called on Turkey to immediately stop its “illegal” drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, warning that Athens will defend itself if necessary.

Referring to Turkey’s plans as a “new serious escalation”, the ministry suggested in a statement that they had “exposed” Ankara’s “destabilising role”.

“Greece will not accept any blackmail. It will defend its sovereign rights. We call on Turkey to immediately end its illegal actions that undermine peace and security in the region”, the statement stressed.

The remarks followed the Turkish surveying ship Oruc Reis starting to carry out seismic survey activities in a disputed zone of the eastern Mediterranean Sea south of Antalya and west of Cyprus.

This was preceded by Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy stating that Greece’s actions, specifically its “pirate agreement with Egypt” on the creation of an EEZ, violated Ankara’s own continental shelf rights.

“Greece demonstrated by its pirate agreement with Egypt on August 6 that it was not sincere and honest about the dialogue. This agreement violated the right of our country and Libya to the continental shelf in the eastern Mediterranean. After that, our vessel Oruc Reis started the previously planned seismic research activity. There is no legal basis for Greece to oppose it”, Aksoy said.

The Turkish-Greek tensions over the drilling in the Mediterranean have been in place for many months, further escalating earlier in August when Athens signed an agreement with Egypt on the delimitation of maritime zones to reassert its sovereignty claims.

Turkey, on the other hand, signed an agreement with similar provisions with Libya in 2019 to appropriate a lion’s portion of the Mediterranean waters that Greece considers part of its EEZ. Athens has repeatedly slammed Ankara’s modified map of maritime borders as an infringement on its sovereign rights.

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