Greece’s exploratory talks with Turkey are not a dialogue for the sake of dialogue. They are a structured debate in which both sides invest for a series of achievements. Greece’s target, as far as exploratory talks are concerned, has always been:
a) That the matter under consideration is the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf.
b) That if no agreement is reached, the issue will be referred to an international tribunal, preferably The Hague.
Therefore, the politicians seeking to downplay the role and the importance of the exploratory contacts should recall the goals of diplomacy, unless they have other – secret – objectives than those mentioned. Possible concessions and pressures to the Republic of Cyprus.
The aim is an agreement with Turkey on these issues. I do not think this is probable now, unless there will be concessions without principles. Of course, on the other hand, the country must try to achieve the essence of the exploratory talks, by setting conditions, “red lines,” and by accurately informing the international community. If, and as long as, exploratory talks continue, the aim must be to have timely set fundamental strategies.
The first and foremost goal within this process under the current circumstances must be to get Turkey to accede and sign the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Otherwise, on what basis will we seriously discuss anything without both parties agreeing to the role of the Law of the Sea?
Part of the agreement with Turkey should be that if the process of formulating an arbitration agreement referral to the International Court of Justice is considered, at the same time, in the processing of this agreement, the second goal must be set: the lifting of the casus belli by the Turkish National Assembly. Its existence is provocative, but with the arbitration agreement, it becomes obsolete even for the Turkish argumentation.
The government should be particularly careful not to repeat its previous mistakes regarding the maritime zones. That is, losing sight of the logical and legal order of things. It should be reminded here that if one chooses the arbitration agreement and appeals to an international court, one will not then be entitled to extend one’s territorial waters as provided by the rights enshrined in international law. The risk is that the court will take into account in the delimitation of the EEZ between both sides, the potentially Greek territorial waters from 6 to 12 miles, plus the bays. Therefore, the third goal must be the timely preparation of the maritime zones that give sovereignty over “non-dry land,” and of the required presidential decrees. Similar care is needed in preparing the maps supporting the proposal for the EEZ and the continental shelf if they should be submitted to the International Court of Justice, as the court will receive similar maps from Turkey, in which the Turkish EEZ will illegally appear to include territories currently characterized as “gray zones.”
The proper preparation for the recognition of the international law by Turkey, the lifting of casus belli and the maps, and a proper use of international law facilitates the under investigation solution. At the same time, these three elements are powerful weapons in every phase in case the exploratory contacts do not succeed and the process leads to a “blame game.”
The fourth target is the great importance Greece must give to the preparation of exploratory contacts. Meaning:
a) Greece must take it seriously. Diplomacy cannot continue to be a kind of government show, where all the negotiation elements parade in public view. Never in the previous 60 rounds did we have such a show that objectively opposes the requirement to treat diplomacy as a very serious matter, that is, with calm and patience. The government must stop putting weight on the communication game instead of the substance. The only explanation for this communication obsession is that it wants to disorient and obscure possible concessions.
b) The Greek government should not, possibly due to its insecurity and its hidden agenda, allow Turkey to create international propaganda. It is inconceivable not to even respond to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s statement of January 12, 2021, according to which Greece was forced to engage in exploratory contacts under German pressure. Nor failing to explain to the international community Turkish views – provocations regarding “gray zones” or for the demilitarization of its islands, despite the occupation of Cyprus and the provocations around the Imia islets. Turkey has no authority to make such demands, because it is not part of the Paris Agreement of 1946 and because with the amendments of the Montreux Treaty it has no legal basis for such claims. The Greek government must explain all this with patience and perseverance. And also explain that international defense law precedes each individual international agreement.
c) The country must be well prepared for exploratory contacts. The ministry has dozens of studies on the matter by highly qualified domestic and foreign experts. Let us make good use of them. There is also a need for Greek views to be presented more systematically and effectively in the international scientific press and to make better use of the publications studied by judges and their collaborators.
d) The country cannot go to a meeting with a smaller delegation than Turkey. Equality in negotiations must exist in all areas. Also, it does not make a good impression that for the first time after 60 meetings, the Greek delegation did not include a single expert in international law or that one of its members is inexperienced and does not really know the subject of exploratory talks and Greek-Turkish relations.
e) Finally, the fact that there is a hidden agenda with concessions does not mean that its bearer doesn’t have clear political choices. Nor that in order to understand his goals, you need to be personally informed by him.
* Nikos Kotzias is the former Minister of Foreign Affairs.