A Turkish coast guard ship patrols in the Aegean Sea off the Turkish coast, April 20, 2016, part of a NATO naval presence meant to monitor illegal naval movement between Turkey and Greece.
Turkey warned Greece on Tuesday that if it extends its territorial waters in the Aegean from 6 to 12 nautical miles it will be a cause for war.
In a statement, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy referred to a declaration by the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1995 that if Greece unilaterally extended its territorial waters it would be a “casus belli” for Ankara.
The declaration, he said, “contains a necessary political warning and is still in force today,” adding that “our views and warnings have also been conveyed to the ambassador of Greece in Ankara.”
“Turkey cannot tolerate any step that is not based on mutual consent in the Aegean Sea where two countries have opposite coasts,” he said.
His comments follow the announcement on Saturday by former foreign minister Nikos Kotzias that Athens was ready to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles in the Ionian Sea.
The extension concerns the sea region from the Diapontia Islands, a small cluster in the Ionian Sea, to Antikythera, an island lying between the Peloponnese and Crete.
According to the 1995 declaration, Ankara considers an extension of territorial waters in the region including Crete, the eastern Peloponnese and all the way to Evia and the Pagasetic Gulf as a casus belli.
Sources said Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday suggested there could be a dialogue with political parties over the extension of Greece’s territorial waters in the Ionian, but said a decision will be made in Parliament and not via a presidential decree, as Kotzias had suggested.
Earlier in the day Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attributed Kotzias’s remarks to populism and said Turkey wants peaceful solutions to problems.
The Greek Foreign Ministry rejected Turkey’s warnings, saying Greece has a “legitimate and inalienable sovereign right” to extend its territorial waters in accordance with international law.
“The decision to extend [territorial waters] rests solely with Greece, which has the right to extend its territorial waters whenever and in any way it sees fit,” ministry spokesman Alexandros Gennimatas said.
“This right is unconditional and cannot be called into question or negotiated with third parties. This is certainly the case for the whole country,” he added.
Meanwhile, asked about Turkey’s response to Greece’s intention to extend territorial waters, a US State Department spokesman said “Washington’s policy has not changed. Turkey and Greece have long-established diplomatic channels for addressing these issues. As a matter of principle the US supports the sovereignty [of both countries],” the spokesman said.