Greece-Turkey exploratory contacts are set to resume on Monday in Istanbul as Ankara is warning Athens that the extension of its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles in the Aegean is an act or situation provoking or justifying war more simply known as a casus belli.
On Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reminded Greece that “Turkey’s position on the issue of the Aegean has not changed.”
“The decision taken by the Turkish parliament has not changed,” he said, referring to the 1995 declaration by the House that if Greece extends its territorial water to12 nautical miles, as it reserves the right to do so under international law, this would constitute a casus belli.
Earlier in the week, Turkey’s foreign affairs’ ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said that “Turkey has vital rights and interests in the semi-enclosed Aegean Sea, where special geographical circumstances prevail.”
He added that “the territorial waters in the Aegean Sea should not be unilaterally extended in a way to restrict the freedom of navigation as well as the access to the high seas of both Turkey and third countries.”
The latest threats by Ankara follow the ratification by the Greek parliament of the bill extending the country’s territorial waters to 12 miles in the Ionian Sea.
Differences from the start
It is within this context that the 61st round of what are diplomatically termed “Investigative Contacts” will take place in Istanbul on January 25.
However, the resumption of the dialogue begins with a big question mark — the different starting points of the two sides about what is to be discussed.
Athens will sit at the negotiating table to discuss a single issue, which is the delimitation of maritime zones in the Aegean, as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has made clear.
Ankara, on the other hand, wishes to bring several issues to the table, such as the demilitarization of Greek islands, gray zones, and airspace in the Aegean.
The Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias underlined in an interview published on Saturday that Athens is going to the exploratory talks with Turkey in good faith, with a constructive spirit, and without being provocative.
Issues not up for discussion
He stressed, however, that there are some issues which “are not up for discussion”, such as those concerning “national sovereignty and the demilitarization of Greek islands.”
Five years have passed since the last round of exploratory talks with Turkey, “which were actually stopped at Turkey’s fault in March 2016,” he noted.
In any case, continued the minister, exploratory talks “are not negotiations, they are informal, there are no minutes taken during the meetings, and neither side has to assume responsibilities or make commitments.”
Potential future negotiations with Turkey will have to focus on the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone and the continental shelf in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, based on International Law, stressed Dendias.
“If there is no agreement during any such negotiations that may follow the exploratory talks, the two sides will then have to agree on a joint text to be submitted to the International Court of Justice at The Hague”, he underlined.
“We hope that the exploratory talks will lead to a de-escalation of tensions,” he added, and that “the Turkish side will come along to these talks in a likeminded spirit.”