A statement by the U.S. State Department calling on Turkey to refrain from plans to send drilling ships into Greek territorial waters has caused a stir.
The statement urged Tukey to refrain from drilling to avoid escalating tensions in the region, but called the region of Turkey’s drilling “disputed waters.”
“The United States is aware that Turkey has issued a NAVTEX* for research in disputed waters in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the State Department said in a statement. “We urge Turkish authorities to halt any plans for operations and to avoid steps that raise tensions in the region.”
(*NAVTEX is a form of maritime message to all vessels in the area that a nation plans to perform activities in a particular region)
Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council, a Chicago-based public policy organization, called the State Department’s message “weak,” sarcastically tweeting “Καμαρώστε δήλωση!” (“Admire this declaration!”).
According to Zemenides, “The State Department certainly doesn’t want to see a conflict that could get out of control in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. But its ambiguous and Pontius Pilate-like declarations send the wrong message to the rogue state led by Erdogan. Only one actor here is risking war, and it needs to be held to account. Doing anything less puts the declarations of ‘Best US-Greece bilateral relations ever’ into question.”
Thanos Davelis, the organization’s director of public affairs, outlined his objections in a series of Tweets, saying the State Department’s message “wasn’t doing the trick” and reminded Washington that Turkey was the only country disputing the said territorial waters.
“Unfortunately, urging Turkey to refrain from or halt provocative actions isn’t doing the trick. What could work is holding Ankara accountable. #CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions are a good start, as is making it clear that the only country “disputing” these waters is Turkey,” Davelis Tweeted.
“As long as the US continues to describe Greece’s maritime zones in the Aegean and EastMed (which are based on international law and UNCLOS — the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) as ‘disputed,’ and fails to hold Turkey accountable, it sends a signal to Erdogan that he can keep bullying US allies in the region,” Davelis said.
In contrast to the State Department’s statement, Senator Bob Menedez — ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and author of the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act — said: “Let’s be crystal clear–the only country ‘disputing’ these waters is Turkey. These waters belong to Greece, and the State Department must unequivocally and publicly recognize that Turkey alone is responsible for the tension over them.”
The American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association (AHEPA) expressed “alarm and grave concern” over Turkey’s actions, while also protesting the State Department’s “erroneous and unacceptable” reference to “disputed waters” in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent by AHEPA’s President George Horiates.
“The State Department’s urging Turkish authorities to halt its operations is welcomed. However, any reference by the United States to Greece’s continental shelf as ‘disputed waters’ is simply unacceptable, erroneous, and only serves to embolden Turkey,” Horiates wrote. “It also runs contrary to repeated statements made by U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt that Greek islands are entitled to continental shelf and exclusive economic zone (EEZ), as recently as last week.”
“The United States must send a stronger and clearer message to Turkey that its actions are condemnable, violate international norms, and will not be tolerated by the United States. Otherwise, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will proceed with ‘business as usual,’ bringing two NATO members to the brink of armed conflict,” Horiates wrote, adding that the U.S. must not pursue a policy of appeasement with Turkey and wait until it is too late. “[The U.S.] must exercise its influence on Turkey to deescalate tensions.”
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