Ankara backpedals on Aegean military drill

Turkey on Monday backpedaled on plans to reserve a big chunk of air space over the Aegean Sea for military maneuvers until the end of the year, Greek officials said, following what appeared to be a reaction from the NATO alliance.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Constantinos Koutras said Monday that Turkey had withdrawn an earlier Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) reserving an extensive area of air space over the Aegean from March 2 to December 31. Greece – which claims that the Turkish move intruded into Greek air space, interfered with traffic to two regional airports and affected two international traffic routes – had over the weekend lodged complaints with NATO, the European Union, the United Nations, and the International Civil Aviation Authority.

Earlier on Monday, Ankara issued a modified NOTAM excluding the island of Lemnos from the reserved area. However, this was also not acceptable to Athens.

Diplomatic sources in Athens Monday said that NATO had played a key role in de-escalating the tension after endorsing Athens’s complaint. According to the text presented by Greece’s Permanent Representative to NATO in Brussels Michail-Christos Diamesis to the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Ankara’s move had threatened to undermine NATO’s cohesion during a crucial geopolitical period.

Commenting on recent developments, Deputy Defense Minister Nikos Toskas said that Turkey, also a NATO member, was trying to take advantage of Greece’s economic woes for geopolitical gain.

There had been no official reaction from Ankara by late Monday.

Greece’s opposition parties were united in condemning the Turkish assertiveness.

However, a decision by New Democracy to request a meeting of the National Council of Foreign Policy for a briefing on Greek-Turkish relations and conservative chief Antonis Samaras’s decision to contact the Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff (GEETHA), Michail Kostarakos, prompted a reaction from the government.

Meanwhile in Nicosia, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades criticized Turkey for seeking to set a precedent in the Aegean, urging the EU, the UN and NATO to take action on the issue.

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