Spiliotopoulos slips

Recent statements by Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos about a possible reduction in Greece’s air space were a bolt from the blue for the prime minister and the public. It was clear from the very beginning that the Turkish Hurriyet daily could not have made up the report, but Kathimerini was obliged to take into consideration the flat denial by the Greek official, in light of the fact that Turkish newspapers have distorted statements in the past. It finally turns out that Spiliotopoulos did make these remarks. Moreover, in his attempt to cover his mistake, he made more mistakes, further exposing himself. Before delving deeper into this aspect, we should first focus on the substance of his remarks. Indeed, could Greek air space be reduced from the current 10 miles to 9 or even 6? Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has ruled out such a prospect but it is hard to believe that the defense minister «went it alone» on such a crucial issue. It should be noted at this point that the question of Greece’s national air space is connected to the extension of its territorial waters. According to international law, Greece has the right to expand its territorial waters from the current 6 miles to 12 miles. Turkey has said that this would amount to a casus belli – an attitude that has caused many complications and strained bilateral relations. Of course, Athens maintains its right, but naturally prefers to exercise it in a consensual fashion. In effect, one should not rule out the possibility of the exploratory talks leading to a comprehensive settlement that will cover both the issue of the continental shelf and that of air space. All these are mere political possibilities and by no means justify Spiliotopoulos’s unacceptable comments. There is no point seeking a reasonable explanation for the controversial statement. Perhaps it was the result of his inexperience at that level. Diplomacy’s secret charm appears to have exercised strong influence on the former military officer and current defense minister. The issue now concerns the prime minister. Karamanlis’s initial reaction was based on his minister’s flat denial. The conservative prime minister is, for obvious reasons, trying to put this issue behind him as soon as possible. But in politics, silence is not always golden. The issue will, no doubt, soon be forgotten. However it will leave a bitter taste with the public and harm the image of the conservative party.