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Greece, Turkey diplomacy falls short in air and on sea March 10, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Turkey, Yunanistan.
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The warming of Turkish-Greek diplomatic relations is at risk of going cold as the Greek ambassador visits the Turkish Foreign Ministry to protest old grievances. After months of correspondence between the countries’ leaders, both sides are speaking out on territorial claims and jetfighter interference
Greece, Turkey diplomacy falls short in air and on sea

Increasing aerial interceptions and complaints of territorial violations are jeopardizing the growing détente between two old foes Turkey and Greece.

The Turkish military has reportedly intercepted roughly 30 Greek jets in the past four weeks and Greece complained Tuesday about flights made by Turkey’s air force over Greek islands.

The Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review has learned that Greek Ambassador to Turkey Fotios-Jean Xydas went to the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Tuesday to protest Tuesday’s incident. “This kind of move could hurt the good climate between the neighbors,” he said.

The increasingly tense climate described by Xydas follows an exchange of letters between prime ministers Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and George Papandreou. In their correspondence, Erdoğan proposed the launch of a new campaign to deepen bilateral relations in all fields, work together to solve the decades-old Cyprus problem, as well as tackle human trafficking problems.

Papandreou responded positively but did not shy away from highlighting the ongoing problems between the two countries. According to the Greek press, Papandreou called for Turkish jets to stop violating Greek air space and for Turkey to halt search and rescue exercises in the Aegean Sea. “They do not help toward the improvement of relations,” he said.

Papandreou also suggested the two countries approach the International Court of Justice in The Hague together to solve the ongoing problem of delineating the continental shelf. The two NATO allies came to a brink of war in 1996 due to an islet whose sovereignty remains contested. Turkey and Greece have held more than 40 exploratory meetings in the past decade in an effort to find a common language for existing problems.

A senior Greek official is expected to visit Ankara in late February to hold a steering-committee meeting where a potential one-on-one prime ministerial meeting in Athens will also be discussed.

While Greek officials complain of Turkish violations of Greek air space, a Turkish official said: “It’s enough to take a look at the official Web site of the chief of General Staff to see how many violations of Turkish waters and interceptions of our jets have occurred.”

According to the Web site, between Jan. 5 and Feb. 9 the Greek air force intercepted Turkish jets in 32 incidents. During the same period, Greek fishing and military boats violated Turkish territorial waters 14 times, according to the site.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry was informed of all the violations so that it could broach the subject with Greece through diplomatic channels.

A Turkish diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no need to panic despite the high number of incidents. “Even in the best of relations between the two countries, such kinds of incidents happen. And that is why we have started this new initiative: to solve these problems in order to stop the reoccurrence of such unwanted incidents.” A few years ago a Greek pilot died as a result of a dogfight with a Turkish jet.

The two countries have produced 19 confidence-building measures over the years to reduce the risk of dangerous incidents occurring in the air and on the sea.

Greece negative on multi-lateral meetings

Aside from bilateral problems, another major issue discussed in the prime ministerial letters was ongoing reunification talks between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. Turkey suggested a four-way international meeting with Turkey and Greece as motherland countries, along with the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Britain would meanwhile be the third guarantor country while the United States and the European Union would be observers.

Greece and Greek Cypriots, however, said such a meeting would only be possible if Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat attended the meeting simply with the status of community leader.

In response, Erdoğan said in a late-January conference: “At a meeting with Greek Cypriot leader [Dimitris] Christofias, I reminded him that he and Mr. Talat met more than 40 times. If you ask me under which capacity he will be present at this multi-lateral meeting, I would only suggest that you accept him at this meeting with the same status you accepted him during the last 40 peace talks.”

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