ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Greece should refrain from testing Turkey’s patience with provocations, including with a threat to extend its territorial waters in the Aegean, Turkey’s defense minister warned on Saturday.
Speaking to a group of journalists in Ankara, Hulusi Akar also said Turkey wanted to resolve disputes with neighbor and fellow NATO member Greece through dialogue and turn the Aegean into a “sea of friendship” but accused Athens of pressing ahead with what he said were provocative actions, including militarizing islands close to mainland Turkey, in breach of international agreements.
“They (Greece) should not miscalculate and think it’s the right time (to extend the territorial waters to) 12 miles,” Akar said. “They should not test us in any way, and should not embark on such an adventure. I hope they don’t make such a mistake.”
He added: “Let the two sides benefit from the riches, let both the Turkish people and the Greek people live happily and prosperously.”
Greece and Turkey have long been at odds over a series of disputes, including territorial rights in the Aegean Sea and over energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions flared in the summer of 2020 over exploratory drilling rights in areas in the Mediterranean where Greece and Cyprus claim their own exclusive economic zone.
Greece says it maintains its right to extend its territorial waters from the current six to 12 nautical miles around its Aegean islands. Turkey has long said it would consider the move — which would block its own access to the Aegean — as a cause for war. Last year, the Greek parliament voted to extend its waters along its western coastline, on the other side of the country, to 12 miles.
Athens has recently called on Turkey to revoke the decision to consider an extension of the territorial waters as a cause for war if it wants to normalize ties. It has also urged Ankara to end what it also terms as provocations in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.
Commenting on the NATO alliance, meanwhile, Akar lamented what he said was “open or covert” arms embargo by some NATO allies on Turkey. He said those countries were “weakening” the alliance by not selling defense components to Turkey.
The United States slapped sanctions on some Turkish defense officials and expelled Turkey from the U.S.-led F-35 fighter jet program after Turkey purchased Russia’s advanced S-400 long-range missile defense system, over concerns that the Russian technology would put the safety of the fighter jets at risk.
Canada canceled export licenses for drone technology to Turkey in April last year after finding the equipment had been used by Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan in the conflict with Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh five months earlier. Arms control advocates had claimed the UAVs were using imaging and targeting systems produced by a Canadian company. In October 2019, Canada joined a handful of European countries, including France, Britain and Germany, in suspending arms exports after Ankara launched an operation in northeast Syria against Kurdish fighters.
Akar said talks with the U.S. over a Turkish request to purchase F-16 fighter planes as compensation for the $1.4 billion it spent on the F-35 program before its ouster, were ongoing. Turkey is also looking to purchase kits to modernize its existing F-16 fleet.
Asked about growing tensions over Russia’s military build-up around Ukraine, Akar said Turkey wanted the dispute to be resolved with the “maximum possible calm and caution.”
He added: “Our vision from the very beginning is this: We are for peace, for the solution of problems through negotiations. Let’s not increase the tension, let’s stay away from any provocative behavior... That’s why we tell our interlocutors over and over that it is very important to act with caution."
Andrew Wilks in Istanbul contributed.
Suzan Fraser, The Associated Press