Turkey renews threat of war over Greek territorial sea dispute

ATHENS — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Thursday threatened Greece with retaliation if Athens proceeded with any expansion of its territorial waters in the Aegean, saying that it would still be seen as a casus belli justifying military action.

“Our position is clear, no 12 miles, we will not allow for territorial waters to be expanded by even a mile in the Aegean,” Çavuşoğlu said during an end-of-year press briefing in Ankara, commenting on reports that Athens plans to extend territorial waters around the island of Crete.

“Don’t get into sham heroism by trusting those who might have your back. Don’t seek adventurism,” he added. “It won’t end well for you!”

International maritime law allows Greece to extend its territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles. But in a parliamentary declaration from 1995, Turkey said such an extension in the Aegean would be seen as a cause of war, because much of its coast would be deprived of access to the sea. The threat is still in effect, Çavuşoğlu said.

“The Greek government conducts itself with international law and its national interest as its only determinants,” Greek government spokesperson Giannis Oikonomou said in a statement.

Despite being NATO allies, Athens and Ankara have been at odds for decades over a number of bilateral disputes, including maritime boundaries, overlapping claims to their continental shelves, and the long-running Cyprus dispute.

Turkey has stepped up its rhetoric against Greece in recent months, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even warning that a missile could hit the Greek capital unless “you stay calm.” Both countries will hold national elections by next summer.

Back in October, Greek foreign ministry officials told POLITICO that the technical work needed to extend territorial waters to 12 nautical miles south and east of Crete could be ready within weeks. This means Athens could pull the trigger on the decision before its legislative election in July.

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