Athens, Greece – Bill passed by Greek parliament envisions increase to Greece’s territorial waters in Ionian Sea from 6 nautical miles to 12.

Turkey said Greece’s extension of its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea does not affect the Aegean Sea.

“The extension of territorial waters in the Ionian Sea by Greece to 12 nautical miles reaches up the south of the Peloponnesian Peninsula and does not affect the Aegean Sea in any way,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement, responding to a question on the matter.

Aksoy underlined that Turkey has vital rights and interests in the semi-enclosed Aegean Sea, where special geographical circumstances prevail.

“Turkey’s position that the territorial waters in the Aegean Sea should not be unilaterally extended in a way to restrict the freedom of navigation as well as the access to the high seas of both Turkey and third countries is well-known by all parties.”

Turkey’s position remains unchanged, he stressed.

Greece’s parliament approved a bill Wednesday that envisions an increase to Greece’s territorial waters in the Ionian Sea from 6 nautical miles to 12.

Greece signed an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) deal on June 9 with Italy and August 7, 2020 with Egypt.

The decree on the closure of the bays and the marking of straight baselines in the Ionian Sea region and the Ionian Islands up to Cape Tainaro in the Peloponnese took effect December 27, 2020 after it was published in the Greek official gazette.

The draft bill was taken to parliament on January 9, 2021 for discussion by lawmakers.

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said that discussions on extending territorial waters off the eastern part of Crete Island are being held.

Last August 2020, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the government was planning to submit a bill to double its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea.

In the future, Greece could also extend territorial waters in other maritime areas, he added.

In the mid-1990s, Greece attempted to extend its territorial waters in the Aegean Sea to 12 miles but scuttled the plan after Turkey declared that such a move would be a casus belli, or cause for war.

Turkey and Greece are due to begin exploratory talks on January 25, 2021 in Istanbul to resolve marine dispute.

Turkey indirectly warns Greece extends coastal claim to Ionian Sea waters

Greece’s parliament has extended its claim to western waters near Albania and Italy, ahead of talks with Turkey, which has long warned against similar moves off Aegean islands.

Greek parliamentarians voted 284-0 Wednesday to extend Greece’s western Ionian Sea territorial waters from six out to 12 nautical miles (11-22 kilometers).

Of parliament’s 300 lawmakers, only 16, Communist Party members, abstained.

Simultaneously, Turkey was told publicly by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis that Athens had “zero naivety” before talks due in Istanbul next Monday over rival maritime claims, focused since last year over eastern Mediterranean offshore gas deposits claimed by Turkey .

Greece’s western Ionian maritime extension under the UN’s 1982 Law of the Sea convention followed negotiations with its regional neighbors, Italy and Albania. Still pending is a decision in The Hague on Albanian-Greek zones that overlap.

Warning against similar Aegean move

Although NATO partners, Turkey’s parliament in 1995 warned that a similar Greek 12-mile enlargement in the Aegean would be interpreted as a reason for declaring war.

Currently, Greece with its myriad of islands lays holds 21% of the Aegean, but a Law of the Sea enlargement, like that in the Ionian Sea, would help it lay claim to 71% of the Aegean.

Between 2002 and 2016, Greece and Turkey held 60 rounds of talks but Turkey’s dispatch last year of a survey vessel into disputed waters caused the resumption of talks to founder.

Last October 2020, NATO said its two members had agreed to “a bilateral military deconfliction mechanism,” including a hotline for use between senior officials should a confrontation arise.

Turkey also says other issues should be tackled, including air space and the status of some Aegean islands.

“We will attend on January 25, 2021 in Istanbul talks with optimism, self confident,” said Greece’s Mitsotakis Wednesday, but with “zero naveity.”

Earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described Athens’ approach as non-constructive.

“It is not right to pick one of these issues and say ‘we’re holding exploratory talks,'” said Cavusoglu.

Mitsotakis told parliament that, if unresolved, the dispute should be referred to an international judicial body.

Turkey strongly reacts to Greece’s expansion territorial waters.

Turkey has strongly reacted to a move that Greece extended its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea to 12 nautical miles.

Greece extended territorial waters in the Ionian Sea from six to 12 nautical miles.

Even though the expansion did not include maritime borders in the Aegean, Turkey has assumed that Greece would attempt to enforce such an expansion in the Aegean as well as in the Ionian. Greece’s eastern territorial waters in the Aegean have been a source of friction with neighboring Turkey for decades.

Greece says it has the right to extend its sea borders to the 12 nautical miles, the maximum allowed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Greek side, upon ratifying the bill, had stated that the determination of the proper time to enforce this expansion is a matter of national strategy, and that the decision can be made unilaterally. However, Turkey insists that the territorial waters of the two countries are a bilateral issue.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy referred to a declaration by the Turkish Parliament in 1995 that if Greece unilaterally extended its territorial waters it would be a “casus belli” for Turkey.

“We are in favor of settling matters through peace and negotiations, without turning it into a close conflict in any way,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stated regarding relations with Greece.