Turkey Wants Greece to Demilitarize Island at Heart of Rift

Turkey demanded that Greece pull its soldiers from a tiny island between them, deepening the showdown between the two NATO members over energy resources in the Mediterranean Sea.

With Turkish media featuring images of Greek soldiers arriving on the island, the Foreign Ministry in Ankara said Sunday that their presence violated a 1947 peace treaty. “We will not allow such a provocation just across our shores,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy said.

A person familiar with the Greek government’s stance said soldiers were already stationed on the island of Kastellorizo and the event was a routine troop rotation. The Greek government had no comment on Turkey’s demand to demilitarize the 12-square-kilometer (4.6-square-mile) island, which lies off the Turkish coast and is the most distant Greek outpost in the eastern Mediterranean.

Strains over contested territorial waters are mounting steadily between two countries that went to war over Cyprus in 1974 and occupy key positions on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s southeastern flank. The demarcation of exclusive economic zones is a flashpoint of the latest dispute.

Greece says islands must be taken into account in delineating a country’s continental shelf, in line with the United Nations Law of the Sea, a convention Turkey hasn’t signed. Turkey argues that a country’s continental shelf should be measured from its mainland, and that the area south of Kastellorizo therefore falls within its exclusive zone.

The disputed region in the Mediterranean has yielded big natural gas finds for Cyprus, Israel and Egypt in recent years. Turkey’s push to secure a share of the resources has deepened tensions with historic rival Greece and with Cyprus, whose northern third the Turkish military has occupied since a failed coup attempt that sought to unite the island with Greece in 1974.

German efforts to mediate between Ankara and Athens collapsed earlier this month after Greece announced a maritime delimitation agreement with Egypt following a similar deal between Turkey and Libya. Ankara later resumed its search for energy in the eastern Mediterranean, and a survey ship will conduct seismic research for about 90 days, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday, after Turkey’s navy launched yet another gunnery exercise in northwest Cyprus through Sept. 11.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a defiant tone on Sunday, saying his country is ready to pay the price for defending its interests in the eastern Mediterranean.

“Turkey will not bow to the language of threats, intimidation and blackmail, especially in the eastern Mediterranean, and will continue to defend its rights under international law and bilateral agreements,” Erdogan said.

— With assistance by Inci Ozbek, and Onur Ant

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