Turkey doesn”t accept international rules when it comes to exploratory drilling for gas in the eastern Mediterranean, Greece’s foreign minister has told Euronews.
Relations between Athens and Ankara came to a boil last summer after the drilling in waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
While a direct confrontation was averted, tensions have remained high ever since, with the EU threatening to slap sanctions on Turkey.
“We would like to move our relations forward,” Nikos Dendias told Euronews. “But we have a problem: in order to solve an exercise [problem], we have to abide by the same rules.
“And the rules in the international community [are] crystal clear. If we move with the same rules, we will solve this exercise [problem].
“But what’s happening with Turkey is that Turkey does not accept those rules.”
“Turkey should accept and abide by international law and accept and abide by the Convention on [the] Law of the Sea.
“On issues of international law, there cannot be many opinions. Something is legal or illegal. Something abides with international law [or] does not abide with international.”
Heated press conference and then a ‘very nice dinner’
Dendias was speaking a week after his meeting in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
The press conference that followed the encounter descended into a heated exchange of accusations.
The public clash made international headiness and laid bare the deep-seated differences between the two countries.
Dendias said Turkey had violated international law in the Aegean and the Mediterranean seas, as well as the sovereign rights of Greece.
Çavuşoğlu called the accusations “extremely unacceptable”.
“Turkey is obliged to protect its own rights,” Çavuşoğlu fired back.
Dendias, speaking on Thursday, said the meeting did not reflect a new deterioration in relations, although he admitted the combative tone was “not something that I wanted to happen”.
“This open exchange with my friend Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was an exchange that set the record straight,” he said, adding that both of them had a “very nice dinner” afterwards.
“Trying to make our relations better does not mean that Greece should not repeat what constitutes long time positions on issues of international law and international law of the sea. And also, if you allow me to say, I’m not speaking about contentious issues, it’s just black and white.
“Greece is trying to find common ground with Turkey. But that common ground has to have a solid basis and that solid basis in international law and international law of the sea.
“That will be extremely helpful for both societies because what Greece is looking forward to is an amicable future with Turkey, the Turks, the Turkish society. We’re close neighbourhoods. We can do a lot together, but this needs a very solid basis.”
‘Denial is one thing, the truth is another’
Asked about the recent proposal of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to hold an international summit on the eastern Mediterranean situation, the Greece minister remained open to dialogue as long as alleged Turkish incursions cease.
“Denial is one thing. The truth is another. What they spoke about is something that cannot be considered contested: 400 flights over Greek territory. There’s not any clause in any international convention or international law that allows fighter planes from one state to fly over the territory of another state,” he said.
“Having said that, we have no problem with discussing with Turkey. We would like to move our relations forward.”
Another point of contention that continues to strain relations between Athens and Ankara is migration. Both sides have accused each other of pushing back migrants. Dendias refutes the Turkish claims.
“I have to say that after March and February 2020, in which tens of thousands of migrants were pushed towards the Greek border by Turkey in order to apply pressure to the European Union, Turkey is in no position to dictate on us or gives us a lesson on human rights protections. And I will not go any further to that,” he said.
“I think everybody remembers the pictures of 2020.”
Speaking more broadly about migration, Dendias said the issue requires “the recognition by everybody that migration is a pan-European problem and it needs pan-European answers”.
He also called for more cooperation with non-EU neighbouring countries, like Egypt, a country he believes is willing “to solve the problem without asking for money from the European Union and without trying to apply pressure or even blackmail the European Union.”