Ankara raises tensions before bilateral talks

As Greek and Turkish diplomats prepare for talks on confidence-building measures that are expected to start on April 22, Ankara appears to be fueling a debate that began in Turkey’s National Assembly last week which questions the status of 16 Greek islands in the Aegean.

Ankara’s provocative stance has stirred suspicion in Athens that Turkish authorities are raising tensions either to distract from domestic upheaval or as a prelude for seeking concessions from Greece once confidence-building talks begin, Kathimerini understands.

In comments on Wednesday, the spokesman for Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tanju Bilgic, said Ankara was determined to “protect its rights and interests in the Aegean within the framework of international law,” adding that “Turkey’s approach toward the Aegean Sea is clear and is well known by all relevant parties.”

Bilgic was responding to a statement by his Greek counterpart, Constantinos Koutras, on Sunday regarding statements by Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz in the Turkish National Assembly disputing Greece’s sovereignty of several Greek islands. “No dispute or point of doubt whatsoever exists with regard to the status of any island or islet in the Aegean or the Eastern Mediterranean,” Koutras said.

Bilgic said Turkish authorities “maintain the political will and determination necessary for the comprehensive and lasting settlement of all Aegean issues through peaceful means, based on common interests and mutual consent of both parties.” He added that both sides should “refrain from unilateral initiatives.”

He also took issue with a recent statement by Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos describing the Aegean as “a Greek Sea.” “This distorted notion lying at the basis of all Aegean issues damages the efforts exerted for the improvement of relations between the two countries and settlement of disputes over the Aegean,” Bilgic added.

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