Turkey, Greece talks focus on territorial waters

01/03/2013

Several agreements are expected to be signed during the prime ministers' meetings.

By Andy Dabilis and Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Athens and Istanbul -- 01/03/13

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Greece Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will be in Ankara on Monday (March 4th) and Tuesday. [AFP]

Greece Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will visit Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara next week for a series of critical meetings, which are expected to include talks on the countries' differences on energy exploration in disputed territorial waters.

Samaras and Erdoğan are expected to sign agreements on education, maritime issues, health and tourism and police affairs.

The issue that is expected to dominate the talks, however, is the ongoing dispute over territorial waters. The governments haven't agreed on the size of their territorial waters or on the delimitation of the continental shelf between the countries. Several Greek islands in the eastern Aegean lie only three nautical miles from the Turkish coast.

Samaras said Greece has the right to search for oil and gas deposits in the Aegean Sea to provide energy for his country and Europe, and that he'd like the country to become a regional energy hub.

All nations should sign the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that allows maritime states to establish economic exclusion zones from the seabed to the surface, and as far out as 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) from their territorial-water limit, he added.

"Greece has the right … to declare an [economic exclusion zone] whenever it wants," Samaras said.

But if Greece tries to establish an economic exclusion zone, it could raise objections from Turkey, which hasn't signed the UN convention.

"The permits issued by Turkey from 2007 until now to [state-owned oil company] TRAO concern territories within boundaries of the Turkish continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said, adding that Turkey has a sovereign right to carry out drilling in the area.

Ioannis Michaletos, an energy specialist for the Athens-based Institute for Security and Defence Analysis, told SETimes that Samaras' trip "is just the beginning regarding negotiations on … the [economic exclusion zone] issue."

Samaras will also take part in the high-level co-operation council, which is being convened for the second time since 2010.

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"This co-operation council will provide opportunity for both parties to evaluate the state-of-play in a total of 22 bilateral agreements [that were] concluded at the previous council," Levent Gumrukçu, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told SETimes.

Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, international relations professor from Istanbul-based Kadir Has University, said that it could be difficult going behind the scenes.

"The rapprochement process is in trouble. [There] is the lack of any resolution on bilateral issues [the continental shelf, airspace, the interpretation of the Law of the Sea]," he told SETimes.

Triantaphyllou said he expects the council meeting will "present a rosy picture of relations to the publics of both countries and that the economic potential will be promoted … but if fundamental differences do not start to be resolved and civil society is not involved with the passion it was in the recent past, relations will suffer."

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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