Ankara ups rhetoric over islets

Athens sticks to low-pro­file re­sponses as Tur­key sets its sights on small Greek is­lands in eastern Aegean

Kathimerini English - - Front Page -

The fall­out­from Ankara after the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion last week not to ex­tra­dite eight ser­vice­men to stand trial in Tur­key for their al­leged role in the failed coup in July, con­tin­ued yes­ter­day, with Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Bi­nali Yildirim dis­put­ing Greece’s sovereignty over “130 small and large chunks of rocks in the Aegean.”

Yildirim said the rocks have “no iden­tity” and that it is not clear who they be­long to, while de­scrib­ing Greece’s stance vis-a-vis Tur­key’s ex­tra­di­tion re­quest as “dis­ap­point­ing.”

He also took a swipe at Greek De­fense Min­is­ter Panos Kam­menos for fly­ing over the Imia islets this week to drop a wreath to com­mem­o­rate three Greek ser­vice­men who were killed when their he­li­copter crashed at the height of the Imia cri­sis in 1996, which brought the two neigh­bors to the brink of war.

“Ge­og­ra­phy is fate and we can­not choose our neigh­bors,” Yildirim said.

Greece’s sovereignty in the eastern Aegean was also dis­puted by Turk­ish For­eign Min­istry spokesper­son Hus­sein Muf­tuoglu, who said Greece has no right to con­duct mil­i­tary ex­er­cises on the is­land of Kos, as it is, he claimed, “de­mil­i­ta­rized.”

For its part, Athens ap­pears to be stick­ing to its strat­egy of low-key re­sponses to Ankara’s in­creas­ingly in­cen­di­ary rhetoric, with For­eign Min­is­ter Nikos Kotzias lim­it­ing him­self to ex­plain­ing Greece’s sov­er­eign rights and the sta­tus of the is­lands in the eastern Aegean.

It is es­sen­tial, he told Al­pha 98.9 ra­dio yes­ter­day, to keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Ankara open in or­der to avoid a “hot in­ci­dent.”

For Greece, diplo­macy is fun­da­men­tal, Kotzias said, adding that “the De­fense Min­istry must do its duty with the means it has, with the hope that there will not be a need to use them.”

Mean­while, the US has re­port­edly lauded the Greek For­eign Min­istry’s del­i­cate and con­sid­ered re­sponses, so as to avert a fur­ther es­ca­la­tion of ten­sion between the two NATO al­lies.

Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras con­veyed his con­cerns about Tur­key’s “provoca­tive claims and ac­tions” to Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel on the side­lines of an in­for­mal sum­mit of Euro­pean Union lead­ers in Malta yes­ter­day.

Ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment sources, Tsipras told Merkel that Tur­key’s ac­tions are un­der­min­ing Greek-Turk­ish re­la­tions, peace and sta­bil­ity in the wider re­gion.

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