Top diplomat: Turkey ready to talk with Greece on E.Med

Ankara ready to discuss maritime delimitation issues in Eastern Mediterranean with Athens, says Turkish foreign minister

Fahri Aksut   | 23.12.2019
Top diplomat: Turkey ready to talk with Greece on E.Med


Turkey has openly conveyed to Greece that it has always stood ready to discuss maritime delimitation issues in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey's foreign minister told an interview to a Greek daily.

Turkey has always supported a policy that seeks dialogue in addressing the problems in the region, Mevlut Cavusoglu told Greek newspaper To Vima.

"Unfortunately, our calls for dialogue have fallen on deaf ears. Most littoral countries of the East Mediterranean ignored our calls and chose to proceed unilaterally," Cavusoglu underlined.

Stressing that only Libya had responded to Turkey's calls for dialogue, he said Ankara had recently signed a pact with the Tripoli-based, UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) "to eliminate the uncertainty" concerning Turkey's maritime jurisdiction areas.

On Nov. 27, Ankara and Tripoli signed two separate memorandums of understanding: One on military cooperation and the other on maritime boundaries of countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The maritime pact asserted Turkey's rights in the Eastern Mediterranean in the face of unilateral drilling by the Greek Cypriot administration, clarifying that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus also has rights to the resources in the area. It went into effect on Dec. 8.

Cavusoglu highlighted that the Turkey-Libya pact is in full compliance with international law and respects the fundamental norms of maritime boundary delimitation.

He added that the GNA is the only legitimate authority in Libya to conclude international agreements.

"They [GNA] have signed similar memoranda with other countries, such as the MoU with Italy in 2018 and in 2019, U.S. in 2018 and in 2019, EU in 2018 and Niger in 2019," said Cavusoglu,

He underlined that shifts in the political balance in Libya would have no effect on Turkey's position on the maritime frontiers agreed upon in its deal with Tripoli.

Since the ouster of late leader Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: One in eastern Libya supported mainly by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and another in Tripoli, which enjoys UN and international recognition.

"Furthermore, according to the Libyan law, an MoU can enter into force by the approval of the Presidency Council. This approval process has already taken place. Thus, the MoU is completely legal and valid. Any change that could occur in the political scene in Libya will not affect Turkey’s position," he said.

Warning the Greek leadership to follow fundamental norms on maritime boundaries, Cavusoglu added: "With regards to the rights of islands to all maritime zones, one shall understand that this is a restricted entitlement, instead of being an automatic one when it comes to the delimitation of maritime boundaries. Unfortunately, the Greek leadership and public opinion tend to disregard this fundamental norm."

Continental shelf and exclusive economic zone

During the interview, Cavusoglu cited technical aspects of international law and agreements.

Asked about the compliance of Turkey's MoU with Libya and the legal rights of islands in terms of maritime jurisdiction, Cavusoglu said: "In case the islands are located far away from their mainlands or in legal terms, if they lie on the wrong side of the median line between the mainlands, then these islands can be ignored in determining the continental shelf [CS] and exclusive economic zone [EEZ] delimitation."

He underlined that entitlement and delimitation did not mean the same thing.

"If the coastal length of the islands facing the relevant delimitation area is minimal as opposed to other mainlands, such islands can only be given territorial sea rights. Many relevant factors and special circumstances such as proportionality, non-encroachment, proximity and jurisprudence of International Court of Justice have to be taken into account in maritime boundary delimitation," he said.

"There are several examples of jurisprudence and state practice in this regard, such as cases between UK-France, Libya-Malta, Nicaragua-Honduras, Nicaragua-Colombia, Tunisia-Italy, Romania-Ukraine," added Cavusoglu.

Describing the claims of Greece and Greek Cypriot administration as "unjust", he said they aimed to "congest" Turkey into a narrow strip of maritime jurisdiction, despite the fact that Turkey has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean.

"How could you expect a 10-square-kilometer [6.2 square miles] island, lying 2 km [1.2 miles] away from the Turkish mainland and 570 km (354 miles) away from the Greek mainland, to create 40,000 square km [24,855 square miles] continental shelf / EEZ area? I do not think that anybody would consider it as an equitable delimitation," he said.

Turkey's call for dialogue

Cavusoglu underlined that Turkey was ready to launch discussions with Greece on the issues in the Eastern Mediterranean.

"We have openly conveyed to Prime Minister Mitsotakis that we stand ready to start discussing issues of the Eastern Mediterranean. We have been bringing this offer up for a while now. Hopefully, the new Greek government will respond positively," he said.

Cavusoglu warned Athens against unilateral steps it took int he past, adding that "avoiding dialogue with Turkey while counting on the blind support of the EU" would be the "biggest obstacle" to resolving the issue.

"Such attitude by the Greek Cypriots has proven to be counter-productive beyond any doubt in terms of the Cyprus problem so far," he said.

Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) also has rights to the resources in the area.

Since this spring, Ankara has sent two drilling vessels -- Fatih and most recently Yavuz -- to the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting the rights of Turkey and the TRNC over the resources of the region.

The Turkish-flagged drillship, Fatih, launched offshore drilling operations this May in an area 75 kilometers (42 nautical miles) off the western coast of the island of Cyprus.

Athens and Greek Cypriots have opposed the move, threatening to arrest the ships’ crews and enlisting EU leaders to join their criticism.

Refugee and migration issue

Cavusoglu also spoke on refugee and migration, underlining that the number of irregular migrants in Turkey increases every year.

He said it was unrealistic and practically impossible for countries located on migration routes to have a "zero migrant policy".

Noting that Turkey was hosting nearly 3.7 million Syrians and trying to control an influx of irregular migration on its eastern borders, he said Ankara could not "accept claims that Turkey is not exerting efforts against irregular migration."

"It is also not fair to expect from Turkey to shoulder solely the burden of irregular migration and refugees issue, which are global concerns," he added.

Since the eruption of the bloody civil war in Syria in 2011, Turkey has taken in over 3.6 million Syrians who fled their country, making Turkey the world’s top refugee-hosting country.

Ankara has so far spent $40 billion for the refugees, according to official figures.

Cyprus issue

Asked about the issue surrounding the "Cyprus problem", Cavusoglu asserted that there was a lack of political will on the part of the Greek Cypriot administration to reach a settlement.

"No matter what they [Greek Cypriots] claim, the Greek Cypriot side does not want to share the power and the wealth with the Turkish Cypriots. Instead, they prefer to see them as a minority within their unitary state," Cavusoglu said.

If the Greek Cypriot administration did not accept political equality, there would be no point in discussing a partnership solution, he said.

"They should be honest with themselves and be ready to discuss a negotiated two-state solution. Otherwise, we will not enter into the same vicious cycle, which is destined to fail again," he added.

Cavusoglu said Turkey always did its utmost to reach a just and lasting comprehensive settlement on the Island.

"We still maintain that only a negotiated settlement based on dialogue and diplomacy can be sustainable," he said.

The Cyprus problem has remained unresolved for decades despite a series of efforts by the United Nations, while recent tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean have further complicated the problem.

The TRNC disputes the Greek Cypriot administration’s claim to be the sole legitimate government of the whole of Cyprus, while the Greek Cypriots oppose recognizing the political equality of the Turkish Cypriots.

The island has been divided into a Turkish Cypriot government in the northern third and Greek Cypriot administration in the south since a 1974 military coup aimed at Cyprus’ annexation by Greece.

Turkey’s military intervention as a guarantor power in 1974 had stopped years-long persecution and violence against Turkish Cypriots by ultra-nationalist Greek Cypriots.

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