Athens, Greece – Greece doubled its western territorial waters within the Ionian Sea to 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) – the utmost allowed beneath the United Nations Conference on the Regulation of the Sea, or UNCLOS.

The legislation added 13,000 sq. kilometres to Greece’s sovereign area – equal to 10 % of its land.

“The extension of territorial waters westward inevitably sends a message to the East,” stated Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in parliament on Wednesday.

“Beneath the identical authorized regime, we will resolve our nice drawback with Turkey, so long as its leaders abandon this monologue of disputation and sit down to speak.”

On Monday, neighbours Greece and Turkey will start exploratory talks in Istanbul – after a five-year hiatus – that purpose to settle maritime boundaries, a supply of alarming friction throughout the previous 12 months.

Greece and Turkey had been on the verge of military confrontation final August, after Turkey launched its seismic survey ship Oruc Reis accompanied by a small naval fleet to probe for undersea oil and gasoline in Japanese Mediterranean waters which Greece claims as a part of its continental shelf and Unique Financial Zone (EEZ) however which Turkey disputes.

Though these zones don’t entail absolute sovereignty over territorial waters, they permit coastal states to train sovereign rights of exploration and exploitation of mineral and dwelling assets.

The opportunity of battle has alarmed each NATO, wherein Greece and Turkey are members, and the European Union.

“In talks with Greece, we hope that points shall be handled throughout the framework of rights, legislation and fairness, and that options are discovered,” Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar stated on Saturday.

The talks beginning on Monday are casual and non-binding, however might ultimately produce a proper technique of negotiation leading to a treaty, or an settlement to hunt arbitration on the Worldwide Court docket of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

If neither occurs, Greek-Turkish tensions will stay – with doubtlessly dire penalties.

What’s on the agenda?

Greece has at all times maintained that it reserves the correct to declare territorial waters of 12nm within the Aegean, however that is intimately linked to the problem of the continental shelf and the EEZ.

Greece’s 1000’s of islands within the Aegean – a few of which lie only a few kilometres off the Turkish coast – would give it sovereignty over 71.5 % of the ocean towards Turkey’s 8.7 % beneath a 12nm regime.

That would depart solely 19.8 % open for dialogue.

Turkey just isn’t a signatory to UNCLOS and disagrees with its provision of a continental shelf and an EEZ for islands.

It doesn’t argue with the rights of islands to territorial waters, however objects to the 12nm distance, and has threatened Greece with army motion ought to it train its rights beneath the UNCLOS.

Talks on Monday are additional difficult by the truth that Athens and Ankara disagree on what ought to be mentioned.

Turkey desires a broad agenda that features discussing the demilitarisation of Greece’s east Aegean islands.

It additionally disputes the possession of at the least 18 of these islands – areas it calls “gray zones”, and has even referred to as for a revision of the Lausanne Treaty, which settled most of recent Turkey’s borders in 1923.

Greece desires a narrower agenda that doesn’t query territory, or its proper to 12nm of territorial waters beneath the UNCLOS.

“Each side should present flexibility on the agenda,” Panayotis Ioakimidis, Professor of Worldwide and European Research on the College of Athens, advised Al Jazeera.

“Turkey should chorus from points just like the demilitarisation of islands and the so-called gray zones. Greece might want to present flexibility and agree to debate territorial waters,” he stated.

Ioakimidis stated the primary topic of earlier talks was territorial waters, not the EEZ and continental shelf. Greece and Turkey held 60 rounds of talks between 2002 and 2016.

“The truth is, we had reached one thing near an settlement,” he stated.

Turkish seismic analysis vessel Oruc Reis sails by the Mediterranean after leaving a port in Antalya, Turkey [File: Turkish Ministry of Energy/Handout via Reuters]

A senior Greek diplomatic supply confirmed this on situation of anonymity. In 2001, Greece and Turkey held their first exploratory talks in secret.

“There was no formal settlement … and both sides has a barely completely different interpretation of what was stated, however broadly the talks agreed on 12nm of Greek territorial waters off continental shores within the Aegean, and probably for the Cyclades, however 6nm for the islands of the east Aegean,” the supply advised Al Jazeera.

UNCLOS however, Ioakimidis doesn’t imagine Greece can finally follow its declare to 12nm of territorial waters in all the Aegean.

“I’ve completely little question that [Turkey would declare war],” he stated, and that Turkey favours a “differentiated extension of territorial waters” like that informally agreed in 2001.

Greece is on firmer floor with regards to the possession of east Aegean islands, outlined by the Treaty of Lausanne.

“The Greek arguments in all these issues are extraordinarily sturdy in legislation, so I don’t perceive why you wouldn’t carry your strongest authorized factors to the desk,” says Pavlos Eleftheriadis, Professor of Worldwide Public Regulation at Oxford College.

“If the Greeks are unwilling to debate problems with sovereignty then the negotiations will fail, since you can’t negotiate an unique financial zone or continental shelf except you already know the place the start line is – which islands are Turkish and which islands are Greek,” says Eleftheriadis.

The Greeks largely view the Aegean as a Greek sea, going again to Homeric instances.

Turkey, too, has raised expectations at dwelling with speak of a Blue Homeland – a naval growth doctrine – that encompasses a lot of what Greece sees as its continental shelf.

“Maritime zones are a matter of nationwide delight for [Turkish president Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, as a result of Turkey has been harbouring ambitions of turning into an vitality hub for some years,” – significantly as Turkey has restricted hydrocarbon assets, stated Can Erimtan, an unbiased historian and geopolitical commentator.

If neither authorities can attain a compromise, the one peaceful answer, say consultants, could be arbitration at The Hague.

Formally, Turkey doesn’t recognise the courtroom’s jurisdiction, however right here, too, exploratory talks have yielded outcomes up to now.

“In 2004 we had agreed informally on a bundle of measures that included going to The Hague,” says Ioakimidis.

Some Greek politicians say Greece ought to prolong its agenda and use this disaster to resolve all its variations with Turkey – together with over the divided island of Cyprus.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, in response to a Greek-inspired coup on the island. Greek Cypriots now reside within the Republic of Cyprus within the south of the island, whereas Turkish-Cypriots reside in a northern enclave nonetheless occupied by Turkish troops.

Greece and Cyprus sought EU sanctions towards Turkey in October, in retaliation for Turkish exploration for oil and gasoline off the coast of Cyprus.

“The important thing to peace within the Japanese Mediterranean, to an ideal diploma, is the answer of the Cyprus drawback. The place is that this, Prime Minister? Is it off the agenda?” stated opposition Syriza MP Nikos Voutsis on January 20.

Why now?

Turkey has remoted itself diplomatically by current army interventions in Syria and Libya, and support to Azerbaijan in its battle with Armenia within the Caucasus, and by violating Greek airspace and encroaching on the Greek and Cypriot EEZs.

Just lately elected US President Joe Biden is much less pleasant than his predecessor in the direction of Erdogan, and the ailing Turkish economic system wants larger entry to the secure EU market.

“Turkey … desires rapprochement with the EU, however can’t achieve this with out rapprochement with Greece,” says Ioakimidis.

Erdogan, who has been fiercely vital of the EU’s stance on the Japanese Mediterranean up to now, advised EU ambassadors in Ankara this month he was prepared to enhance ties.

Turkey’s jostling for house within the area has additionally stirred Greece to motion. In 2014 Greece started to promote offshore oil and gasoline concessions, however curiosity has fallen away as oil majors are cautious of bidding for blocks that Turkey will dispute.

Final 12 months, Greece signed agreements demarcating maritime EEZs with Italy and Egypt.

It’s within the areas ruled by these agreements that Greece is now increasing its territorial waters. It subsequent plans to legislate 12nm of territorial waters south and east of Crete.

Greece is beneath strain for different causes, too. A 2014 EU directive requested all member states to zone their territorial waters and EEZs for all financial exercise, together with fishing, fish farming, hydrocarbon exploration and renewable vitality manufacturing – and the deadline is March 2021.

Maybe the financial prospects within the area and the drain created by defence spending, in addition to the continued menace of armed confrontation, will lastly push Greece and Turkey to a daring political settlement, or at the least a authorized arbitration.

“Violence doesn’t produce authorized outcomes,” Mitsotakis stated in parliament, “however the legislation does produce peace.”

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