The energy-fueled feud between Greece and Turkey, both sides of the US-led NATO military alliance, has intensified in the Eastern Mediterranean, threatening to destabilize the coalition’s southern flank if tensions do not ease. Newsweek speaks with officials on both sides as they seek to win the position of the United States in its position on the dispute.
With no clear path to a solution, Athens seeks intervention, Ankara seeks neutrality in Washington, and the two accuse each other of aggravating historical enmity.
“For anyone who has been following the tensions that Turkey has been building for several months, first on its land border with Greece, then in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, it would be almost impossible to guess that the two countries are allies and have been so in recent years. 68 years, “said the Greek embassy in Washington Newsweek in a statement.
The latest round of escalations erupted over the weekend after Turkey sent an Oruç Reis seismic research vessel to explore oil and gas reserves in water, also claimed by Greece and its close island state partner Cyprus, whose northern half is backed by Turkey. government.
The ship had previously entered the waters in August, leading to rival military exercises before the two sides agreed to escalate last month. A NATO conflict resolution mechanism was set up earlier this month, just as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was traveling to Greece, but differing views between Athens and Ankara gave way to the ship̵
The State Department said in a statement Tuesday that spokesman Morgan Ortagus said the United States “regrets” Turkey’s decision to resume operations in the waters claimed by Greece.
“Turkey’s communication unilaterally increases tensions in the region and deliberately complicates the resumption of key research talks between our NATO allies Greece and Turkey,” Ortagus said.
She accused Ankara of deliberately aggravating the already precarious situation.
“Coercion, threats, intimidation and military action will not resolve tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean,” she said. “We call on Turkey to put an end to this calculated provocation and to start exploratory negotiations with Greece immediately. Unilateral action cannot build trust and will not lead to lasting solutions.”
The Greek embassy said Newsweek that Athens appreciated Washington’s efforts to mediate the situation, but now wants the United States to increase pressure on Turkey.
“The United States, together with all NATO partners and allies, must emphasize to Turkey that a necessary condition for our coexistence and cooperation inside and outside NATO shares our common values and principles,” the statement said. “Whoever insists on deliberately rejecting them must be held accountable.”
However, the Turkish embassy accused Greece and Cyprus of inciting the ongoing dispute.
“It is not Turkey that is unilaterally raising tensions in the region, but Greece and the Greek Cypriots,” the Ankara embassy in Washington said. Newsweek.
And instead of pushing for a more practical role for the United States, Turkey called for the issue to remain bilateral and to be resolved through direct talks with Greece.
“For regional peace and stability, it is imperative that the United States maintain its active neutrality and avoid resorting to the discourse voiced by Greece and Greek Cypriots,” the Turkish embassy said. “Encouraging one country at the expense of the other could never help solve existing problems and will not serve American interests in the region.”
The question is rooted in different interpretations of the borders of the exclusive economic zones of Turkey, Greece and Cyprus and to which continental shelf the waters in question are located. Turkey claims that Greece’s claims cannot extend to its southeastern island of Kastelorizo, just over a mile from the Turkish mainland.
The long legacies of the lands that make up Greece and Turkey have been intertwined for thousands of years, with past empires ruling at different times. The two have fought several wars against each other since Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1930, and despite joining NATO in 1952, hostilities erupted over riots in Cyprus in 1972 and the two became embroiled in a military crisis. in 1996 because of an uninhabited island in the Aegean Sea.
To this day, their maritime borders remain unresolved. This year, the friction has worsened significantly as Turkey signed an agreement with the internationally recognized government in Libya, and Greece struck deals with Italy and Egypt to bolster their opposing views.
Washington, for its part, is not directly on the side of either country.
The US embassy in Ankara issued a statement rejecting a 2000 report commissioned by the European Union, in which Greece’s claims to the disputed area have “no legal significance”. The statement said the United States believed the EU did not view the document, known as the Map of Seville, as “legally binding”.
“The United States does not take a position on other countries’ maritime disputes regarding global policy,” the US embassy said, urging participating states to settle their differences “on the basis of international law.”
Based on that logic, the Ankara embassy said Newsweek that Turkish officials “consider it seriously contradictory on the part of the United States to have criticized Turkey” in a recent statement by Orthaus on Oruch Reis.
The EU has also repeatedly criticized Turkey’s actions. On Wednesday, the recently appointed head of the EU delegation to Turkey, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, met with Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Yonal to discuss relations between the two countries.
As tensions rose, the Turkish embassy also commented on reports of increased Greek military activity in Kastelorizo and other islands.
“The acts of provocation shown by Greece so far include the deployment of naval assets on a contractually demilitarized Greek island just a mile off the Turkish coast,” the embassy said. Newsweek, “and also regularly violates the demilitarized status of the East Aegean Islands by deploying military forces and / or conducting military exercises in their vicinity.”
Greece did not agree.
Athens paints Ankara’s latest moves as part of a broad campaign of increasingly insistent intervention in the larger region, stretching across Libya, Syria and even the South Caucasus, where Turkey has offered support to Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia over the self-proclaimed separatist state. of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Turkey’s rhetoric, mainly offensive, breeds mistrust and contempt, while ignoring the concerns expressed by the international community,” the Greek embassy told Newsweek. “In the MENA region, in Cyprus, in the Eastern Mediterranean and even in the Caucasus, Turkey has become a major destabilizing factor.”
However, the Greek embassy said the priority should be to restore relations with Turkey.
“For us Greeks, the vision of a modern, prosperous and truly democratic Turkey that values good relations with all its neighbors, instead of striving for territorial conquests from past eras, is not too much to ask for in the 21st century. it is nothing short of what our neighbors, the Turkish people, deserve, “the Greek embassy said Newsweek.
For the United States, growing tensions between Greece and Turkey represent another emerging geopolitical hotspot just weeks before the US election.
The State Department said Wednesday that Assistant Secretary of State for Politico-Military Affairs R. Clark Cooper is due to travel to Greece and Cyprus in the coming days to “consult with senior civilian and military officials in Athens on peacekeeping efforts. and stability, from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Balkans. “
Asked whether tensions with Turkey would be specifically on the agenda, a State Department spokesman said he had nothing to add to Ortagus’ previous statement.
This article there is has been updated to reflect that lands that represent modern day Greece and Turkey the host empire that manages one another in different times.