Commission asks Turkey to respect international agreements after new spat with Greece

Alexandros Gennimatas: "The decision to extend it rests solely on Greece, which has the right to extend its territorial waters whenever and in any way it sees fit." [Shutterstock]

The European Union remains committed to good neighbourly relations and respect of international agreements, EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic told EURACTIV.com following tensions between Athens and Ankara on the expansion of territorial waters in the Aegean.

Reportedly, “respect of international agreements” refers to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, under which such expansion is possible, while the reference to “good neighbourly relations” is a rebuke to Turkish positions considering any extension a casus belli.

Turkey is not a member of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The fresh spat in Greece-Turkey relations was caused by a statement made by Greece’s former foreign affairs chief Nikos Kotzias, who said Athens stood ready to extend its territorial waters in the Aegean from 6 to 12 nautical miles.

The 12 nautical miles is the maximum limit permitted by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Athens has repeatedly stated that such a move is in full accordance with international law.

The Aegean dispute has been a matter of tension between Ankara and Athens since the 1990s as such a move would give Greece sufficient room to take advantage of its marine resources.

In 1995, the Turkish parliament declared that any unilateral action by Greece to extend its territorial waters is a casus belli: a reason for war.

For Athens, casus belli is a clear violation of the UN Chapter, which is against “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.

Turkey’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said Ankara could not tolerate any step that is not based on mutual consent in the Aegean Sea where two countries have opposite coasts while he reiterated the casus belli still applies.

“The declaration of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, dated 8 June 1995, contains a necessary political warning and is still in force today,” Aksoy said.

For Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Greece often makes such announcements to cause tension or in a “populist framework”.

Athens fired back with foreign ministry spokesman Alexandros Gennimatas, who said that the extension of the territorial waters was “a legitimate and inalienable sovereign right of Greece, in accordance with international law”.

“The decision to extend it rests solely on Greece, which has the right to extend its territorial waters whenever and in any way it sees fit,” Gennimatas warned.

“This right is unconditional and is not called into question or negotiated with third parties. This is certainly the case for the whole country,” he said.

The Avgi newspaper quoted diplomatic sources as saying that Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, who is also minister of foreign affairs now, has ordered the process of gradually expanding territorial waters, to start with the Ionian Sea [on the West], and proceed with a bill to the Greek parliament and not with a Presidential Decree, as previously stated.

In the meantime, Washington noted its policy had not changed and kept its distance.

“Turkey and Greece have long-established diplomatic channels for addressing these issues. As a matter of principle, the US supports the sovereignty [of both countries].”

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