Tom Ellis TOM ELLIS

The US on the Aegean and SYRIZA’s reaction

COMMENT

TAGS: Politics, Diplomacy

Several references in the US State Department’s report to Congress concerning the situation in the Aegean are indicative of the challenges that could crop up in the context of any effort to normalize Greek-Turkish relations. They are even more critical at a time when one can’t exactly accuse the foreign policy establishment in Washington of having “pro-Turkish fixations.”

The report states that Greece is claiming airspace that extends 10 nautical miles and territorial waters of up to 6 nm, when international law stipulates that a country’s airspace corresponds to its territorial waters. Hence, it continues, the US recognizes up to 6 nm airspace. It adds that although Greece currently claims up to 6 nm territorial waters in the Aegean, “Greece and its neighbors have not agreed on boundary delimitation in those areas where their lawful maritime entitlements overlap,” hence the US does not have a clear view on the issue.

The US has consistently urged – most recently in comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that were repeated in a letter to Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias – Greece and Turkey to “resolve outstanding bilateral maritime boundary issues peacefully and in accordance with international law.” America’s support for the principle of peaceful resolution is always welcome and it is on this that the Greek side – regardless of who was in power – has relied for decades.

However, if – either under the threat of sanctions or as a result of the mediation efforts of powerful countries like the US or Germany – Ankara stops making threats and we move on to the stage of exploratory talks, the above US positions (by no means new) would not facilitate the work of any Greek government. For the US, the absence of a maritime border agreement means that there is “no clarity” on the extent of Greece’s territorial waters and corresponding airspace.

The issue is very sensitive and has to be handled with the appropriate seriousness. In this context, Greece’s main opposition party would be well advised to avoid statements accusing the State Department of “adopting Turkish positions on the sovereignty of Greek islands.” Apart from being over the top and unfair to the government, such statements are also damaging to the country.

There is no merit to SYRIZA’s claims that “if, just a few weeks after Pompeo’s visit to Greece, these are the US positions, then New Democracy managed in a very short time to cancel important steps in Greek-American relations that were taken during the years of SYRIZA’s administration in the interest of the country.” Such comments are unconscionable.

Sure, important steps were made under SYRIZA. Just the fact that a left-wing government acknowledged the importance of a pragmatic foreign policy and friendly relations with the superpower was a great leap forward and helped the country.

The current government has continued in the same direction and deepened these good relations. Is it that hard for all to be objective? And to behave responsibly on issues of national security?

The positions outlined by the State Department are part of a reality that Greece will have to deal with in the future – no matter who is in government.

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