Athens welcomed Turkey’s decision to recall its vessel Oruc Reis and other ships from Greece’s continental shelf. Greece, Cyprus and other members of the international community had slammed Turkey’s operations in the area since 10 August as a violation of the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of which Turkey is not a signatory.
Greece’s President Katerina Sakellaropoulos was in Kastellorizo for the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the island at a very critical period. She welcomed Turkey’s decision not to renew the NAVTEX for surveying the region around the island as a “step in the right direction” so that dialogue could begin.
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis made similar comments during his press conference at the Thessaloniki Helexpo Forum which is held annually to present the budget.
Mr Mitsotakis said he hoped that Ankara’s decision would be followed by other steps towards the same direction. “Greece is ready to start a new cycle of exploratory contacts with Turkey,” he said.
“Dialogue in good faith is the main way to deal with the only problem we have, which is the delimination of maritime zones.”
The Greek leader also discussed the country’s new arms procurement programme which would result in the purchase of 18 French Rafale fighter jets, four frigates and four navy helicopters. “The new arms procurement programme is ambitious, but within the country’s economic potential,” he said, adding that a huge investment has been made which would result in 15,000 new jobs in defence over the next five years.
“Rafale jets will replace the older Mirage 2000,” he said, predicting that the first aircraft of this type would arrive in Greece by the middle of 2021 with production set to be completed by the beginning of 2022.
In regards to diplomacy, Mr Mitsotakis said that Greece’s position “is stronger than it was six, nine or twelve months ago”. “There has been a much greater awareness of what is happening in our region. There is now a clear view of who is causing tension and who has international law on their side,” he said.
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the move did not mean Turkey was “giving up rights” in the area, showing that Turkey is still holding onto its 50-year Blue Homeland Doctrine focused on growing its naval presence in Mediterranean waters, including areas which are part of the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of Greece and Cyprus. If anything, potential oil and gas reserves in the area have strengthened Turkey’s resolve to claim sea areas which territorially belong to neighbouring countries.
The European Union backs Greece and Cyprus and had already announced that sanctions would be brought against Turkey if it continued its activities.