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Turkey, Greece see improvement amid breakthrough reports November 7, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Turkey, Yunanistan.
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State Minister Egemen Bağış, met with Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis in Ankara on Monday.

State Minister Egemen Bağış, met with Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis in Ankara on Monday.

Turkish-Greek relations are improving, officials from both countries said on Monday, but declined to comment on recent reports that the two neighbors are close to a breakthrough in their decades-old disputes over territorial rights in the Aegean.

“We believe that there is no problem between Turkey and Greece that cannot be resolved. With mutual good intentions, honesty and courage, we can easily resolve issues concerning the Aegean, Cyprus, Halki Seminary and the Turkish minority in Greece,” State Minister Egemen Bağış, who is also Turkey’s chief negotiator for accession talks with the European Union, told reporters after talks with Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis, who is in Ankara to attend a Turkish-Greek joint economic committee meeting.

Bağış said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou, have achieved significant progress in resolution of all bilateral disputes between Turkey and Greece but declined to reveal further details. “Results of these meetings will be shared with the public when the time comes. But there is an improvement,” he said.

Bağış was responding to a question over weekend reports in the Greek media that the two neighbors are close to a breakthrough in Aegean disputes, which brought the two neighbors to the brink of war three times in the past, most recently in 1996 over an uninhabited Aegean islet.

Relations between the two countries have improved drastically in the past decade, and diplomats have held several rounds of exploratory talks on how to resolve the territorial disagreements in the Aegean but, despite the positive political climate, no significant progress has been reported thus far.

EU helps Greece on immigration

A team of EU border officials is being sent to help Greece deal with an increase in the number of immigrants crossing into the country from Turkey, the European Commission said on Sunday. Nearly nine out of 10 illegal immigrants use Greece as an entry point to the European Union, and arrivals by land — mostly from Turkey — have increased by more than a third in a year, putting pressure on the country’s northern border regions. In response to a request from Greece, a rapid intervention team from the EU border agency FRONTEX will be deployed to the border with Turkey for a limited period, acting under Greek authority, the commission said. It is the first time the EU’s rapid intervention border teams have been deployed since they were created in 2007. “The situation at the Greek land border with Turkey is increasingly worrying,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said in a statement. “The flows of people crossing the border irregularly have reached alarming proportions, and Greece is manifestly not able to face this situation alone.”

In a statement this month, the UNHCR described the situation of illegal immigrants as “disastrous” and called on Athens to urgently take necessary measures to improve the conditions they live in. Brussels Reuters

Prime Minister Erdoğan, who recently told Greek media that Turkey is ready to end the practice of jet fighters’ overflights of Greek islands in the Aegean, met for two-and-a-half hours with Papandreou on the sidelines of a climate conference. Erdoğan reiterated in those remarks that NATO, of which both countries are members, could have a role in monitoring the military flights. There was no reference to the Aegean disputes in statements of Erdoğan and Papandreou following their talks.

But reports in the Greek media said over the weekend that Ankara and Athens have reached an agreement in principle over how to resolve the disputes. According to reports, the likeliest scenario is that Turkey lifts its objections to Greece extending its territorial waters in the Aegean to 12 nautical miles but that this extension only applies to the coastline of its mainland, not the Greek islands. Practically this scenario would mean that Greece secures control of less than 80 percent of the Aegean, said Kathimerini newspaper.

According to the daily, Erdoğan wants a consensus to emerge by end of the year. “We would like to avoid comments on non-official statements on this issue,” Spyros said in Ankara when asked about the reported progress in Aegean issues. “Authorities of the two countries have intensified their cooperation and contacts to resolve all Aegean issues in the best and permanent way,” said Spyros.

Turkey and Greece are at odds over boundaries of their territorial waters and airspace in the Aegean due to the peculiar geography of the Aegean Sea, where some Greek islands are lined up along Turkey’s western coasts. In 1995, the Turkish Parliament declared any unilateral attempt by Greece to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles from the current six miles as a casus belli, or reason to declare war. Parallel to the dispute over the delimitation of the territorial waters, the two countries are also at odds over the limits of Greek airspace in the Aegean. Greece claims 10 nautical miles of national air space, while Turkey recognizes only six miles because international law defines airspace as covering a state’s land and its territorial waters. In May, on Erdoğan’s first official visit to Greece since 2004, Turkey and Greece pledged to try to ease tensions and signed 21 bilateral agreements on issues ranging from tourism, energy and the environment.

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