The approach to Greek-Turkish relations

The intervention of former prime minister Kostas Karamanlis in response to an article in Kathimerini by his predecessor Kostas Simitis brought to the fore the significant differences over the best strategy for managing our difficult relationship with Turkey. The dispute not only concerns the history books; it laid bare something far more important, the almost endemic absence of a united internal front on national security issues. This is a serious impediment to an effective foreign policy.

This situation creates contradictions. With the talks of the past being secret and, therefore, knowledge of them necessarily incomplete, there have been interpretations that do not always correspond with reality, or, in any case, publicly expressed positions do not provide the full picture. However, Turkey always carefully notes our debates and what we say, either in speech or in writing. And, at the right moment, it invokes them to its own ends.

In an article published last Sunday in Kathimerini on Turkish claims in the Aegean, Pavlos Papadopoulos refers to “individuals advising the current government” claiming that “Greece has already recognised Greece’s vital interests (in the Aegean) since 1976 and periodically reaffirms this recognition,” adding that “the political communiques resulting from the Madrid and Helsinki talks (in 1997 and 1999, respectively) reflected this reality.”

“Vital interests” is a political and not a legal term. It is a term introduced by Turkey to claim that Greek-Turkish negotiations must be “political”, that is outside the principles and rules of international law. Turkey’s motive is obvious.

If this is what “individuals assisting the Mitsotakis government” advise, I believe they do not provide useful services and do not protect the government from adverse consequences on issues of national importance. Negotiation on political terms is leading Greece to the slippery slope of concessions.

The view that all Greek governments since 1974 have recognised Turkey’s vital interests and the Madrid talks merely reflected this in the communique is a dangerous distortion of reality. The fact that we have not expanded our territorial waters in the Aegean to 12 miles or that we do not engage in searches for oil and gas in the Aegean beyond our territorial waters does not derive from any Greek commitment or any recognition of “Turkish vital interests” until Madrid. It derived from the fact that we were facing (and are still facing) the threat of war, formally expressed by the Turkish government in a 1995 resolution. The resolution invokes “the balance in the Aegean as defined by the Lausanne Treaty” of 1923.

We are shooting ourselves in the foot when we claim that the Bern Protocol (1977), the Davos communique (1988) or the Lausanne Treaty forbid research outside our territorial waters. The Turks habitually interpret any agreements as it pleases them.

Then Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, at a meeting at his home in 1982, rejected the Turkish interpretation, claiming that the Bern Protocol was of a procedural character and temporally limited and thus had become inoperative. He had instructed our ambassador to Ankara to pass on the government’s position to Turkish Foreign Minister İlter Türkmen. A few days later, the government spokesman had declared that Greece had the right to search for oil and natural gas reserves beyond the six miles.

(This article originally appeared in the Kathimerini newspaper and is reproduced by permission.)