Athens denied on Thursday (3 September) a statement by NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that Greece and Turkey had agreed to technical talks to defuse tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Greek diplomatic sources said the only way to de-escalate was for Turkey to withdraw its warships from Greek waters.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg tweeted on Thursday night that following his discussions with the two leaders, the two allies have agreed to “enter into technical talks at NATO to establish mechanisms for military de-confliction to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents in the Eastern Mediterranean”.
Stoltenberg added that Greece and Turkey are “valued Allies”, and that NATO is an important platform for consultations on all issues that affect our shared security.
NATO has taken Greece and Turkey as members to strengthen its Southern flank, but also prevent the two arch-foes from going to war against each other.
“I remain in close touch with all concerned Allies to find a solution to the tensions in the spirit of NATO solidarity,” he said.
However, Greek diplomatic sources immediately stressed that the announcement of “alleged technical talks in NATO does not correspond to reality”.
The sources said they took note of Stoltenberg’s intention to work to establish de-escalation mechanisms within NATO.
“However, de-escalation is only the immediate removal of all Turkish ships from the Greek waters,” the sources said.
According to Greek media reports, Stoltenberg expressed to the national permanent delegations to NATO in Brussels his intention to suggest technical talks between Greece and Turkey.
But Athens never gave its agreement, nor did Stoltenberg talk to the Greek prime minister or foreign minister, the sources suggested.
At the same time, the Turkish foreign ministry issued a statement commending Stoltenberg for the initiative.
“This initiative, which is also supported by Turkey, refers to the initiation of military-technical meetings between the two countries within NATO, as the Secretary-General announced today,” the statement read.
But while according to Ankara, the meetings are meant to be focused on de-confliction related to the arrangements addressed previously on a bilateral level between the military authorities of both countries, “they are not related to the outstanding bilateral issues between Turkey and Greece”.
“We expect Greece to support this initiative of the Secretary-General of NATO,” the Turkish MFA stressed.
Tensions between Greece and Turkey, both NATO members, have escalated dangerously in recent weeks after Turkey decided to send seismic vessel Oruç Reis, accompanied by Turkish navy ships, into Greek territorial waters.
The EU has decided on a list of sanctions against Turkey if Ankara does not escalate tensions and remove its warships from Greece’s waters. Turkey has a deadline until the next EU summit on 24 September.
However, things have not changed much since the EU’s ultimatum.
Turkish foreign affairs minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu warned on Saturday (29 August) that if Greece expands its maritime borders in the Aegean Sea, Turkey will treat it as a cause of war.
The EU replied that Ankara has a clear timeline to de-escalate, otherwise the first phase of sanctions targeting the Turkish energy sector will apply.
New push from Berlin
Greek media also reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had held a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan aiming to de-escalate tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
According to a statement issued by the Turkish presidency, Erdoğan expressed his anger with some NATO members who support Greece. Apparently Erdoğan was referring to Paris, which has publicly backed Greece and sent warships to the region.
“The support offered by some countries to the selfish and unjust attitude of Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean is unacceptable,” Erdoğan said.
France-Turkey incident probe
NATO had recently opened an investigation into a France-Turkey naval incident in the Eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Libya.
French defence minister Florence Parly had then denounced Turkey’s behaviour twice during the two days of the alliances defence ministers’ meeting in June.
“This extremely serious incident must be raised and our allies share our concern,” Parly told the French senate, saying eight of the NATO’s 30 members had backed her intervention.
“A reflection is needed on what is happening in the alliance. We must face the abuses that are taking place there,” she added.
On the question whether there is any conclusion in the probe opened into the recent French-Turkish incident, a NATO official told EURACTIV that “NATO’s Military Authorities have submitted their report on the incident between Turkey and France in the Mediterranean” and as this is a classified report no results will be shared publicly.