Germany criticizes Turkey over island dispute with Greece


ATHENS, Greece — Germany’s foreign minister on Friday criticized Turkey for disputing the sovereignty of Greek islands near its coastline and urged Greece to make sure it stamps out any illegal pushbacks of people at the border.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was meeting Friday with officials in Greece and Turkey. The two NATO neighbors have been at odds for decades over sea boundaries, related drilling rights and the war-divided island of Cyprus, disputes that have brought them to the brink of war on several occasions. “Yes, many questions of international law are complicated, but some are also very simple. Greek islands ‒ Lesbos, Chios, Rhodes and many, many others ‒ are Greek territory, and no one has the right to raise questions over that,” Baerbock told reporters after talks in Athens with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias. Turkish officials says the sovereignty of eastern Greek islands can be disputed if it keeps a military presence there in violation of its treaty commitments. Athens disputes that view and has accused Turkey of carrying out frequent military overflights at its islands in the eastern Aegean Sea.

Baerbock, who travels to Turkey later Friday, suggested that NATO members should concentrate their efforts on supporting Ukraine, and singled out Russian President Vladimir Putin for his country’s aggression. “For me, it is clear that we must solve conflicts between NATO partners in dialogue. Disputes in the ranks of the alliance are exactly what the Russian president wants, so that will be my message in Istanbul this afternoon as well,” she said. “That includes respecting each other’s sovereignty.”

Baerbock, who visited a refugee camp near Athens on Thursday, said EU countries needed to do more ensure that the right to apply for asylum was upheld at the bloc’s external borders. Human rights groups say Greece is not properly processing many migrants and asylum-seekers trying to reach the EU, including illegally pushing back from the border some who are trying to cross.

“We must uphold the values on which the European Union was built,″ she said. ”We … must do more to ensure that people are safe and that there are no human rights violations at the border, and for me this includes illegal pushbacks. We are not there yet.”

——— Moulson reported from Berlin.

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