Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Turkey is ready to open its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels and aircraft if the European Union takes steps to end the economic isolation of Turkish Cyprus.
Erdoğan, speaking to reporters on Monday, said Turkey would not change its position on Cyprus and insisted that Ankara should not be expected to change its stance. “If they are ready to open [the ports and airports] simultaneously, we are ready to do so, too. Our ministers have been saying this at every occasion. No one should expect us to act any differently,” he said.
Erdoğan’s remarks were in response to reports that the EU is working on a compromise deal under which Turkey would at least partially open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus in return for further progress in its accession talks with the EU.
A senior Turkish government official confided with Today’s Zaman over the weekend that opening ports and airports to Greek Cyprus would be out of the question until a permanent settlement is found.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan also dismissed speculations that the Turkish side is ready to revise its position to consider the extension of Greek territorial waters to 12 miles in the Aegean as a casus belli (a cause for war).
Erdoğan declared, “There is no such agreement regarding 12 miles,” and that talks around this were still continuing. The prime minister’s remarks came in response to recent reports in the Greek media that Turkey has agreed to rescind a parliamentary decision which considers the extension of territorial waters by Greece to 12 miles as a cause for war.
The two Aegean countries have been at odds over the boundaries of their territorial waters and airspace due to the peculiar geography of the Aegean Sea, where some Greek islands are lined up along Turkey’s western coast. Turkey believes that each side possesses six nautical miles (11 kilometers) off their shores in the Aegean, but Greece believes its continental shelf extends to 12 miles under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Turkey refers to the same law and says this rule cannot apply in the Aegean because of the proximity of the Greek islands in the Aegean to the Turkish landmass.
Turkish media reported yesterday that Greek and Turkish authorities are working to reduce “interception games” in the Aegean. Compared to last year, the violation of Greek airspace by Turkish war planes have decreased by 60 percent. Turkey, however, considers only six miles off Greek coast as Greek airspace and thus claims its war planes are not violating the airspace.
Greek government spokesperson George Petalotis earlier told reporters that the policy of legally extending Greece’s territorial waters at sea to 12 miles is a sovereign right and that they will not give up this right. “There is no secret diplomacy between the two countries,” he said in late October, responding to claims by news outlets that Ankara and Athens had reached an agreement in principle over how to resolve the Aegean dispute. “Of course, there is no secret diplomacy. We will not take even one step back concerning our sovereignty rights,” Petalotis then said.