Placing yet more strain on relations with Greece, Turkey, via its Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, disputed the status of the Imia islets in the eastern Aegean and insisted it will never withdraw its troops from Cyprus.
In a speech on Tuesday to the Turkish Parliament on the 2019 budget, Cavusoglu said the status of the islets, which brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war in 1996, “is not precisely defined either in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 nor in the Treaty of Paris in 1947.”
“However, there has been no change in the status of the islands since the Imia crisis in 1996. As such, there is always tension between Turkey and Greece,” he said, adding that the Turkish General Staff and Ministry of Defense are “continuing exploratory contacts with Greece.”
“This is a sensitive issue, so we will continue our consultations,” he said.
In response to his remarks, Greek diplomatic sources said the legal status of the Aegean is absolutely clear and assured under international law.
“The well-known positions of Turkey diverge from international law and are nothing but [the view] of a minority of one,” the same sources said in an apparent reference to comments made by US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell last Friday in an exclusive interview with Kathimerini regarding Ankara’s position on Cyprus’s right to exploit its natural resources.
Cyprus also featured prominently in the parliamentary address by Cavusoglu, who said there can be no settlement of the Cyprus problem that does not recognize Turkey’s military intervention rights and security guarantees.
“I remind those who dream of zero guarantees and zero troops: Wake up from this dream, let it go, it will never happen,” Cavusoglu said.
He also accused the Greek Cypriots of failing to match Turkey’s “sincere efforts” to reach a peace settlement.
“There is no point in starting negotiations just to talk. We will define what, why, under what parameters [and] in what context we will discuss.”
As for Ankara’s energy aspirations in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cavusoglu said that Turkey will proceed with drilling operations off the coast of Turkish-occupied Cyprus.