Turkey held a naval exercise near Greek waters on Tuesday as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pushed Athens for cooperation ahead of European Union talks over Ankara’s energy exploration in the contested eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey and Greece last week agreed to resume talks aimed at resolving disputes over maritime boundaries after a tense naval standoff over the summer brought the two NATO members close to the brink of conflict. Cyprus, another EU-member, is also at odds with Turkey over maritime boundaries and rights to any energy resources discovered around the divided Mediterranean island.
Erdogan advocated cooperation to further ease tensions in the energy-rich Mediterranean as Turkey’s one-day navy drill in an area that partly falls between the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kastellorizo aimed at pushing Greece to the table. EU leaders were due to meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss how to deal with Turkish energy exploration activities.
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“I call on all our neighboring countries in the Mediterranean, Greece in particular, to abandon seeing the Eastern Mediterranean issue as a zero-sum game,” Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul on Monday. “Let us make energy a means for cooperation, not for conflict.”
Erdogan said all regional actors should gather and try to “reach a formula on the win-win basis that protects everyone’s rights.” But he warned that equations in which Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state “are not fairly included cannot yield a Pax Mediterranea.”
Greece says that islands must be taken into account in delineating a country’s continental shelf, in line with the UN Law of the Sea, which Turkey has not signed. Ankara argues that a country’s continental shelf should be measured from its mainland, and that the area south of the Kastellorizo island — just a few kilometers off Turkey’s southern coast — falls within its exclusive zone.
The Cypriot government officially has sovereignty over the entire island, yet Cyprus has in effect been divided since Turkish forces captured its northern third in 1974, following a coup attempt in which a military junta in Athens sought to unite Cyprus with Greece.
The Turkish minority’s self-proclaimed state in the north, formed in 1983, is recognized only by Ankara. Frictions between the two sides and with Turkey have grown over competing claims to any energy resources discovered off the island’s shore.
“We have declared it to the entire world that we will not succumb to the language of threat, pressure and blackmail in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Erdogan said. “All the attempts aimed at surrounding our country from the seas failed. Turkey has laid bare that it will defend till the end the Turkish Cypriots’ rights together with its own rights.”
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