Erdogan lays blame
Greece is to blame for increased tension in the Aegean because its air force planes harass Turkish jets when they fly in international air space, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Sunday’s Kathimerini in an exclusive interview, although he said that the two countries could find a lasting solution to all their problems. «The core aspect of the outstanding Aegean air space disagreements is the persistent abuse of the Flight Information Region (FIR) responsibility by Greece and the unique Greek claim to 10 nautical miles of national air space, while the breadth of territorial waters is 6 NM, both of which are contrary to international law,» said Erdogan. He claimed that his country was showing «unreciprocated restraint» over its military activities in the Aegean and that Greek armed forces were 10 times more active in the area. The interview was conducted before tensions between the two countries rose last week while Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis was visiting Ankara. As Molyviatis was agreeing to confidence-building measures with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, last Tuesday, Greek and Turkish fighter pilots jousted over the Aegean and Greek and Turkish coast guard boats engaged in a 26-hour standoff near the Imia islets, two eastern Aegean rocks over which the two countries nearly fought nine years ago. The incidents overshadowed Molyviatis’s two-day visit, despite the fact that he reached an agreement with Gul to set up a telephone hot line between the two countries’ air force command centers at the Larissa and Eskisehir air bases in a bid to scale down tensions in the Aegean, where simulated dogfights between opposing jets are an almost daily occurrence. Erdogan told Kathimerini that Turkish planes submit daily flight plans to Greece, through NATO channels, and accused the Greek air force of using this information to «intercept and harass» Turkish fighter jets. Nevertheless, the Turkish premier said that he felt relations between the two countries had been on a «satisfactory course» since 1999, when both countries were struck by deadly earthquakes and came to each other’s assistance. «I can assure you that we sincerely wish to reach a just, lasting and equitable settlement to all issues by observing the mutual interests of both countries,» said Erdogan.