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Greece not demilitarizing Aegean Islands if Turkish threat remains: Defense Minister

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Greece and Turkey were almost on the brink of war on three separate occasions in 2020 due to a long-standing maritime dispute, said defense minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos in an interview with Greek news agency Proto Thema.

Panagiotopoulos has said that as long as the threat from Turkey persists, “there is no question of demilitarization of the islands. It is intertwined with maintaining the threat.”

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“Three times there was a universal mobilization of the Armed Forces,” he said, emphasizing the extent of their tensions with Turkey due to the Oruç Reis crisis.

Responding to a question during the interview about addressing the issues raised by Turkey during their exploratory talks with the country, Panagiotopoulos said: “We explain to them that we are coming to discuss specific issues on the agenda and that these preliminary discussions take place on these specific issues only, and not on any possible claim that Turkey may make, say demilitarization of the islands.”

A view of Turkey's research vessel, Oruc Reis anchored off the coast of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. (AP)
A view of Turkey's research vessel, Oruc Reis anchored off the coast of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. (AP)



Adding that “Our supreme sovereign right is to protect our national integrity and on this basis, we choose to have forces of legal and preventive defense on the islands.”

“The Navy was at the center of this mobilization because it developed in the Eastern Mediterranean and came close to the Turkish Navy in many cases that we know of. But the entire Armed Forces was ready for any eventuality, from armed aircraft at bases to Army units at the border,” he said about the mobilizations.

“We had a strange certainty that this mobilization would succeed in sending the other side the message of deterrence. That is, the opponents would not reach a point of military engagement because they knew they would face heavy costs.”

He add that the created a deterrence by actions taken to avoid military escalation.

Adding that by taking actions to deter confrontation with military escalation moments away.

Panagiotopoulos also disclosed that amendments to the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement were already underway, and that the US, under Biden’s administration, has already put forward some proposals to resolve the matter.

A picture taken on March 23, 2016 from Cesme district in Izmir, western Turkey, shows a Dutch NATO warship patrolling the Aegean Sea between the Turkish coast and the Greek Chios island on March 23, 2016. (AFP)
A picture taken on March 23, 2016 from Cesme district in Izmir, western Turkey, shows a Dutch NATO warship patrolling the Aegean Sea between the Turkish coast and the Greek Chios island on March 23, 2016. (AFP)



“We are asking the Americans for a package, such as access to more funds for military assistance to third countries or the release of weapons systems from the surplus of the US Armed Forces,” he said.

“Our goal is to further intensify inclusive training and exercises with different units of the US Armed Forces. However, I believe that with the Biden administration there is more room for optimism to come to terms with the Americans.”

He emphasized that while the relationship between Greece and the Trump administration had gone well, “the Trump-Erdoğan personal relationship affected the overall situation”.

Turkey and Greece recently started their first talks on the maritime disputes in the eastern Mediterranean since 2016, a big step in their relationship to resolve the matter.

The two nations, both NATO members, have been at odds over claims to energy rights, air space, Mediterranean waters, and the status of some islands in the Aegean Sea. Little progress has been made after 60 rounds of talks between 2002 and 2016.

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