By Serkan Demirtaş, Hurriyet Daily News
Maritime demarcation agreement between Greece and Egypt is, in fact, supporting the Turkish thesis that the islands do not have sovereign continental shelves, the Turkish foreign minister has said, adding that Greece did not start its continental shelf from the islands in the Mediterranean and the Ionian Sea while signing maritime deals with Egypt and Italy.
“We must first see the map, but it’s a big probability that Greece has not started its continental shelf from Crete and other islands in the Mediterranean. It seems they have made concessions over the sovereign rights of the islands’ continental shelves,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told a group of reporters traveling with him to Lebanon over the weekend.
Turkey has slammed Greece and Egypt for signing a maritime delimitation agreement as they have no maritime boundary and therefore described it as null and void. The Greek-Egyptian agreement was a response to Turkey’s similar deal with Libya in late 2019. It came at a moment when Germany and the European Union were in preparation for the start of comprehensive dialogue for a resolution between Turkey and Greece as well as Greek Cyprus over the hydrocarbon activities in the Mediterranean Sea.
Çavuşoğlu said Ankara’s final assessment on the Greece-Egypt deal will follow after the publication of the map, but information gathered by Turkey reveals many important aspects in favor of the Turkish position. Recalling that Greece and Egypt were in tough negotiation for a maritime delimitation agreement for around 15 to 20 years, the minister hinted that the former had to make concessions because its sole ambition was to nix the Turkish-Libyan deal.
“The Egyptian continental shelf somehow enters in Libyan lines, but it does not enter Turkey’s continental shelf. Greece’s lines, however, are in full violation of our continental shelf. After all, the statement by Greek foreign minister which says that ‘Turkish deal went to waste’ is a clear exposure of their ambition,” he said.
“But they should know that these issues cannot be resolved through rhetoric, symbolic steps, or agreements that do not respect our rights and interests. We have already said, ‘We will be on the table and in the field.’ We have already deployed our vessels back to the region upon the instructions of our president,” Çavuşoğlu added.
Following an intervention by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who initiated a mediation between Turkey and Greece, Ankara had decided to temporarily suspend its seismic exploration off Greek islands in the Mediterranean Sea in a bid to reduce tension and give room for diplomacy.
“Ours was a show of goodwill gesture,” Çavuşoğlu said, adding both Germany and the EU were also shocked when they heard about Greece’s deal with Egypt just on the eve of talks.
‘This deal works for Turkey on two reasons’
As a matter of fact, the agreement between Greece and Egypt works for Turkey on two reasons, Çavuşoğlu said.
“Firstly, no one can accuse us of causing tension. Plus, nobody can urge us that we cannot deploy our vessels to the said regions. Even though they urge, we won’t listen. Because it’s now obvious that it’s Greece who does not want dialogue,” he underlined. Turkey made clear to Germany and other relevant parties that it’s ready to sit around a table for talks with Greece, Çavuşoğlu said. “But now Greece, with this move, has shown that it does want to be a part of this process. The timing of the deal just on the eve of this process also shows that it disregards these countries [who want to mediate between Turkey and Greece].”
Greece conceded Egypt
The second aspect in regards to the delimitation agreement between Greece and Egypt is that the former has long been willing to start its continental shelf from its islands; Crete and others to find an advantageous median line with Egypt, but it seems that it failed, Çavuşoğlu noted.
“It looks like that concession was made over the sovereign rights of the islands, including Crete. It has been raised as a subject of criticism by the former Greek foreign ministers as well. Essentially, this is in support of our thesis,” the minister said.
Turkey and Greece have long been differing over whether the islands have a continental shelf.
Greece says international law gives the islands the right to exercise jurisdiction on their continental shelf and specifies that the continental shelf between two countries must be defined on a median line basis.
Turkey, however, says the Greek islands do not have the right to exert jurisdiction on the continental shelf, as they are located on the Turkish continental shelf. Greece’s Meis Island just two kilometers off the Turkish coast but around 600 kilometers to the Greek mainland is being put as an example by Turkey that islands may not have a continental shelf.
Çavuşoğlu did also recall a maritime delimitation agreement Greece signed with Italy very recently which did not start the former’s continental shelf from its islands in the Ionian Sea. “These are two agreements that endorse our thesis,” Çavuşoğlu said.
‘ICJ won’t resolve all problems’
In a statement last week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis suggested that going to the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be an option if Turkey and Greece fails to resolve border disputes in the Aegean Sea.
On this point, Çavuşoğlu recalled that Turkey and Greece were carrying out exploratory talks since the early 2000s and have made substantial progress on problems stemming from different interpretations of the multiple issues in the Aegean Sea.
The talks were aiming to find ways on how to resolve these issues, including the border dispute. Greece claims 10 miles air space and the status of the islands, islets, and rocks. The minister stressed, “One of these ways is a bilateral agreement, and the other is going to international law. But the decision will be given together. It does not include picking up one issue and going to court. It will not solve the problems.”