By George Gilson

The Greek and Turkish foreign ministries today issued an announcement that the next, 63rd round of consultative talks will be held in Ankara on 6 October.

The talks will be held less than two weeks after the signing of the Greece-France agreements on mutual defence and on the purchase of next generation French Belharra frigates, against which the Turkish foreign ministry lashed out today.

In a statement entitled “Response to a Question Regarding the Statement of Greek Defence Minister Concerning the Inclusion of Maritime Jurisdiction Areas to the Defence Agreement Signed with France”, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic blasted Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos’ assertion that the mutual defence agreement with Paris covers Greece’s maritime zones.

“Greece’s maximalist maritime jurisdiction area and national airspace claims are in contravention of international law. It is a vain dream for Greece to think that they can impose upon Turkey these claims, which are also questioned by the international community, by forming bilateral military alliances against Turkey, undermining NATO Alliance itself,” said Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Tanju Bilic said in a statement issued today, along with the announcement of the next round of talks.

“Such futile attempts will further strengthen our determination to protect the rights of both our own and those of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas. Greece’s policy of armament as well as isolation and alienation of Turkey, instead of cooperation, is a problematic policy, which will threaten regional peace and stability and undermine not only itself but also the EU, which Greece is a member of,” the statement concluded.

Greek government’s response

Athens responded with a sharp statement by government spokesman Yannis Economou.

“None of the moves Greece is making diverges from what is stipulated in international law and has been co-signed by all civilised states. It is others who have revisionist tendencies in our neighbourhood,” Economou said in an interview with SKAI television today. “We are accustomed to these reactions, but we do not make decisions based on how Turkey will react. Our country will responsibly and decisively do what it should.”

Two decades of bilateral talks

The exploratory talks, as they were called then, were launched by then foreign minister George Papandreou and his Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem, in February, 2002, in an effort to find points of convergence regarding disagreements over Ankara’s demands regarding the Aegean.

For most of the past 21 years, the talks – which at various points were suspended for a protracted period – as diplomats confided at the time were essentially parallel dialogues, with each side reiterating its position on a series of issues, with few signs of convergence.

Over the last two years, however, Ankara has pushed its claims on the ground, with near clashes in the Mediterranean and tying up with NAVTEXES maritime areas that include Greece’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone, most recently near the island of Kastelorizo.

Greece’s red line

One apparent point of convergence is that Athens has said that its red line is the defence of six nautical miles of territorial waters and not 12 miles, the extent to which under international law Greece can legitimately extend its international waters but has not to date.

“The red line is national sovereignty, and when we say national sovereignty it is self-evident that we mean our national territorial waters, which today are set at six nautical miles. Facile sabre-rattling regarding their unilateral extension to 12 nautical miles, which is a right of the Greek state which will exercise it at the time of its choosing, is not an issue that can be tabled in a hot-headed manner. It is our duty to highlight Turkey’s hypocrisy in order to isolate it diplomatically,” said State Minister Yorgos Gerapetritis, one of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ closest advisors, in October, 2020.

Mitsotakis has repeatedly stressed Greece’s dedication to resolving bilateral differences trough negotiations and that the only framework in which this can be achieved is that of international law.