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Turkey and Greece reach agreement on controversial Aegean Marine Park project

Turkey and Greece reach agreement on controversial Aegean Marine Park project

 


ANKARA Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said on Tuesday that Turkey and Greece had reached an agreement in principle on a controversial Greek project to create a marine park in the Aegean Sea, where the two countries have conflicts historical territories.

“We have expressed our concerns about the marine park,” Fidan said during a televised press conference with his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg in Ankara. An agreement in principle was reached between the two parties to avoid unilateral measures. Both sides agree that no unilateral measures should be taken and that existing issues, no matter how difficult, should be discussed.

Reached by Al-Monitor, the Greek Foreign Ministry was not immediately available for comment.

Fidan's announcement followed talks Monday in Ankara between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Fidan and his Greek counterpart George Gerapetritis were also present at the summit.

Background: In April, Mitsotakis unveiled a plan to create two national marine parks, one in the Ionian Sea and one in the Aegean Sea, aimed at preventing marine pollution and preserving biodiversity.

Coming just four months after Erdogan's historic visit to Athens, the Aegean Marine Park project has caused new tension amid a rapprochement between the two neighbors. Turkey sees the Aegean Marine Park project as an attempt by Greece to expand its territorial waters in this region.

The Turkish Foreign and Defense Ministries have issued stern warnings to Athens against the project. Territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea have brought the two NATO allies to the brink of war several times in recent decades.

The plan aims to increase the size of our marine protected areas by 80% and cover around a third of our territorial marine waters, Mitsotakis said in April at the international environmental conference for ocean protection in Athens.

Speaking on Tuesday, Fidan said Turkey did not view the plan as an “innocent environmental project” but rather as something that, if moved forward, would cross his country's “red line”, particularly in regarding the dispute over the continental shelf between the two neighbors.

Tensions arising from Turkish hydrocarbon exploration activities in disputed waters and the militarization of the Dodecanese islands, where Greece is allowed to maintain a limited military presence under international treaties, have led to a series of escalations , including naval clashes between the two NATO allies from 2018 until 2022.

These relations thawed following the two earthquakes which struck southeastern Turkey and which claimed the lives of more than 55,000 people on February 6, 2023. The humanitarian aid offered by Athens to era helped ease tensions. In November 2023, the Turkish and Greek defense ministries reinstated a series of de-escalation measures between the armies of the two countries as part of the resumption of confidence negotiations interrupted in 2022.

Greece says it has the right to extend its territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles and expand its exclusive economic zone in the Aegean Sea, citing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Turkey, which is not a signatory to the convention, strongly opposes this idea, arguing that such action would hinder its access to international waters. In the 1990s, the Turkish Parliament passed a bill declaring that Greece's extension of its territorial waters beyond six nautical miles into the sea was an act of war.

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