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23 July, 2024
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Washington scratches beneath surface in Aegean dispute

Official says no issue with Greek island sovereignty, Turkey’s leaked letter highlights territorial waters, airspace


The State Department called on Turkey and Greece “to refrain from rhetoric and actions that could further escalate tensions,” with a statement from Washington that Greece’s sovereignty over these islands was not in question tying to Turkey’s grievances over “width of territorial waters and national airspace.”

According to Kathimerini Greece, an unnamed US state department official this week invoked Russia’s war in Ukraine to respond to a question regarding the latest spat between Athens and Ankara.

“At a time when Russia has again invaded a sovereign European state, statements that could raise tensions between NATO allies are particularly unhelpful,” the official said.

The statement came days after Greece and the Republic of Cyprus called on allies to condemn remarks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who invoked a failed Greek invasion in 1922 when he warned Greeks during a public speech that “when the time comes, we will do what is necessary.”

Erdogan made the remarks after Greece and Turkey had entered a new spin cycle of accusing each other of airspace violations.

In a letter sent last week to the EU, NATO, and the UN -but not Athens or Nicosia- Ankara said there were problems in the Aegean Sea including the 'width of territorial waters and national airspace'

Athens called on Brussels and Washington for support, with European Union leaders and officials rushing to condemn Erdogan’s comments.

Paris said it would continue to back Athens against any “attacks on Greek sovereignty” while Brussels voiced concerns over what it called “hostile remarks.” Nicosia also weighed in with the Cypriot foreign ministry saying Erdogan’s remarks were “unacceptable and insulting.”

But Washington took a slightly different and more nuanced approach in its statement, with the US official saying “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and protected.”

“Greece’s sovereignty over these islands is not in question,” the American official said, with the timing of the statement possibly leaving room for interpretation about other concerns expressed by Ankara.

In a letter sent last week to the EU, NATO, and the UN, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu highlighted that there were problems in the Aegean Sea that included the “width of territorial waters and national airspace.”

Islets, rocks, service areas

Cavusoglu argued that Greece engaged in a “violation of the non-military status of the Eastern Aegean Islands,” according to Turkish media, with Ankara further claiming that “islands, islets and rocks and service areas, such as search and rescue region, flight information region and NAVTEX, whose sovereignty has not been transferred to Greece via valid international agreements.”

Kathimerini Greece concluded this week that 2 out of the 27 EU members had not received Cavusoglu’s letter, referring to Athens and Nicosia.

But after the letter was leaked to Turkish media this week, similar letters from Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias were also made public.

Last month Washington disagreed with Athens that Turkish flights over the Aegean constituted airspace violations, according to Kathimerini Greece that cited a State Department report submitted to US Congress.

US President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking lawful ways to sell new F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, a move that has been made difficult by Greek friend senator Bob Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Menendez told Kathimerini in August that he could not support the sale or transfer of American F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, citing Ankara’s “provocations inside Greek airspace and territorial waters.”

Cyprus  |  Greece  |  Turkey  |  United States  |  airspace  |  territorial waters  |  maritime  |  islands  |  Aegean  |  NATO  |  dispute

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