Erdoğan irked by Athens’ involvement of third parties in bilateral ties, says aide

The government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is angered by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for attempting to get third parties involved in ties between Ankara and Athens, the director of communications for the Turkish Presidency, Fahrettin Altun, said.

Neighboring Greece is only harming itself by antagonizing Turkey through “petty calculations” or by turning to third countries, Altun told Greek newspaper Kathimerini in an interview published on Thursday.

Greece and Turkey have been at loggerheads for decades over a string of issues, including sea boundaries. The disagreement intensified in 2020 amid oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions re-flared in June of this year due to Turkish claims concerning total demilitarization of the Greek Islands.

“For years we have watched Greece violate international agreements by militarizing these islands,” Altun said, referring to the country’s eastern islands. “Turkey also warns that Greece will only harm itself by opening up the existing treaties to discussion. It would be wrong to take this warning as a threat by Turkey against Greece.”

Turkey is demanding that Greece demilitarize the Aegean islands, citing 20th century treaties, including Lausanne, that ceded sovereignty of the islands to Greece.  Athens calls the demand a deliberate misinterpretation and has accused NATO ally Turkey of stepping up hostile actions in the area.

“It is Greece that has been escalating the tension in the Aegean for some months now,” Altun said, citing specific examples with radar imagery. “Turkey responds to Greece’s provocations…We were not and are not the side that is increasing the tension.”

“He (Mitsokis) is trying to involve third parties in our bilateral relations. He may believe that Greece has benefited from such maneuvers in the past. However, it needs to be understood that Turkey is no longer the old Turkey,” the Erdoğan aide told Kathimerini.

In May, Mitsotakis urged a joint session of the U.S. Congress not to drop a ban on Turkey's membership of a purchasing programme for the next generation F-35 fighter jet. Erdoğan accused Mitsotakis of seeking to block the sale of American-made F-16 fighter jets to Turkey during the visit and vowed never to speak to the Greek leader again.

The same month, Greece told the head of the United Nations that Turkey was directly challenging its sovereignty over islands in the eastern Aegean Sea, and pursuing a hostile and “revisionist” policy aimed at destabilizing the region.

Ankara believes that the Biden administration will take the necessary actions to have approve Turkey’s F-16 request approved by U.S. Congress so the process can be completed as quickly as possible, according to Altun, despite efforts by Athens against the move.

Turkey has applied to purchase 40 Blok 70 Viper F-16s and as many as 80 modernisation kits for its existing F-16 fleet after purchasing Russian S-400 air defence missiles. The acquisition of the Russian weapons in 2019 prompted the United States to bar it from a programme to develop and purchase the F-35 stealth fighter jet.

A Turkish delegation is slated to visit Washington next week to follow up on U.S. President Joe Biden’s pledge of delivering F-16 fighter jets for Turkey, SoL news site reported on Tuesday, citing the Turkish Defence Ministry.

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