Continuing a trend of provocative statements, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday indirectly disputed the status of the Imia islets in the Aegean Sea, over which Greece and Turkey nearly went to war in 1996, and of other islands too ahead of a telephone conversation between the two countries’ defense ministers.
“This year there was no crisis around Kardak because of the stance we maintained there,” Erdogan told journalists, using the Turkish name for the Imia islets.
“We said that if [Greece makes] any move, of the sort it has made in the past, then we will also do something. But if Greece does not do anything, you will see that we will not do anything,” he said. “My defense minister would most probably call the Greek defense minister to thank him and to continue this process in [Imia] and the other islands,” he added.
Greece’s Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar did speak by telephone later, the Greek ministry confirmed, saying their talks focused on a NATO summit in Brussels on February 12-13 and on plans for bilateral talks on confidence-building measures, to be held in Athens on February 17-21.
Erdogan's comments fueled debate as it is not the first time he has invoked private conversations between Greek and Turkish officials. Two weeks ago he referred to a private exchange between him and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, while he also recently divulged that he had told “a former Greek mayor” that Greece should not concern itself with Turkey.
Leftist SYRIZA, for its part, accused the government of “unprecedented levity in dealing with national issues,” while the office of Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias hit back, describing the opposition’s use of statements by Turkish government officials to score political points as “unforgivable.”
Meanwhile a US official reiterated calls for calm in the broader region as Turkey continues drilling in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone. “We urge all parties to not take any provocative actions that could create further instability,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Francis Fannon said in Nicosia on Wednesday.
“And we’re steadfast on that,” Fannon said ahead of a meeting of technical experts from Cyprus, Greece and Israel, following the signing last month of a deal between the three countries for the construction of an undersea pipeline to carry natural gas to Europe.