Davutoglu: New positive status quo needed

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu covered the gamut of Greek-Turkish issues, Cyprus and even his country's thorny course towards the European Union in a wide-ranging press briefing here on Wednesday morning, as the author of the mantra "zero problems with neighbours" detailed Ankara's positions before again calling for a "new status quo in a positive sense".

Davutoglu, who met with Greek leadership a day earlier during the first day of his three-day visit to Greece, opened his comments by emphasising that past assumptions, as he said, regarding Greek-Turkish relations should be overcome, namely, that the two neighbours lie on an "east-west" or "Christian-Muslim" fault line.

"Our relations cannot be seen as a confrontation between East and West; Muslim and Christian. This should not be a parametre," he said, repeating criticism of any notion of a "zero sum game" approach by either Athens or Ankara.

Davutoglu reiterated that the Turkish side does not consider Greece a "rival" state or as a problem for Turkish diplomacy, reminding that no less than 24 bilateral agreements were signed since 2009, "when 35 agreements were signed in the previous 87 years." He also thoroughly dismissed what he called an "old paradigm" playing to Greek fears that Turkey will invade a Greek isle, or Turkish fears that Greece's Aegean islands will act as a springboard for intervention in Turkey's Asia Minor coast (Anatolia).

The noted academic and diplomat nevertheless touched on the essence of a handful of standing differences still plaguing Greek-Turkish ties despite a more than decade rapprochement between the two countries.

On Cyprus, he said a solution should be found "as soon as possible", although he countered that Turkey's strong support for the Annan peace plan in 2004 and a decision to "open the gates" -- a reference to the barriers between the island republic and the Turkish-occupied north -- rank as distinct "actions" proving Ankara's goodwill.

Moreover, he accused the Greek Cypriot side of trying to use Turkey's EU aspirations as "leverage" in talks.

"The worst-case scenario is for an EU stalemate (in Turkey's accession course), and no Cyprus agreement; no solution is not a solution," he said, pointing to what he called a "counter-productive" policy by both France and Cyprus vis-a-vis the accession prospect.

Davutoglu also responded to a bevy of press questions on issues of particular importance -- and annoyance -- to the Greek side, including overflights of eastern Aegean isles by Turkish warplanes and accompanying Athens FIR infringements, as well as a controversial declaration by the Turkish Grand assembly in the mid 1990s authorising "measures" in case Greece extends its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles (from the current six). In terms of the latter, he dismissed the notion that the June 1995 resolution ranks as a "casus belli" (threat of war), saying the Turkish assembly motion followed a resolution by Greece's parliament on the an extension of territorial waters.

Moreover, he said an immediate remedy to this specific matter could be a nullification of both resolutions by the respective legislative assemblies, something that could possibly be proposed by the governments in Greece and Turkey.

Along those lines, he twice underlined his view that the Aegean Sea is the most "complicated" body of water in the world separating two countries, when was asked why Greece would acquiesce to waiving its right -- to legally extend territorial waters to 12 n.m. -- under the International Law of the Sea.

Greece is a signatory to the latter, while Turkey has declined to sign the pact up until now, citing opposition to certain Articles.

As per Turkish air force and naval activity in the Aegean -- which Athens has sternly criticised over the past four decades as aiming to dispute Greek sovereignty of islets, territorial waters and airspace -- Davutoglu said Turkey's position is against an imaginary "wall" being placed on its western shores and skies.

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