Cool heads required

It’s time for Athens and Nicosia to deal with the current situation in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which a Turkish seismic research vessel has breached against international law, with greater cool-headedness. Public opinion in Nicosia is pressing for a stronger Greek naval presence in the area. Greece’s naval forces, like Turkey’s, are present in United Nations and NATO missions in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Detaching these surface vessels and submarines from their missions or reinforcing them will not have any kind of positive effect. Not because of the danger of a Greek-Turkish war – a possibility that no clear-minded person can ever safely discard. But because the escalation of tension will not take us back to the regime that existed prior to the crisis.

Ignoring past experience is unwise. During the Imia crisis, which led to the establishment of “gray zones” in the Aegean Sea, the issue – on a practical level, at least – had to do with a few tons of bream and sheep pastures. What is at stake in Cyprus is far more serious.

There was no immediate need at this particular point for setting up a tripartite meeting between Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, scheduled to take place in Cairo on November 8, a move which has provoked a disproportionate and unlawful reaction on the part of Ankara. Clearly, however, considering how the situation developed, the meeting cannot be postponed without someone losing face, especially the Greek government.

What is also possible is that the Turkish vessel will continue its provocative presence in the Cypriot EEZ and that Turkish air force activity over the Aegean Sea will be maintained, if not increased. Direct communication at the highest level between Athens and Ankara in view of defusing the current crisis would be appropriate, yet unlikely, given that Greece rarely operates in this way.

When the series of discussions concludes in Cairo, Greece and Cyprus will have to urgently deal with the issue of the future of talks regarding the solution of the island’s political problem. Judging by the reaction of our partners, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades was wrong to halt discussions as a reaction to Turkish provocation. He was also wrong to nurture hopes vis-a-vis his international interlocutors that he was going to swiftly solve the issue, and equally wrong to expect an immediate and effective US intervention, which led to “American-inspired” solution scenarios.

In the meantime, Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos is preparing to take on his European commissioner’s portfolio. It would be comforting to see his replacement at the Defense Ministry display a cool-headed attitude as opposed to hot-blooded reaction, given that entire region is in turmoil.

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