31 August 2020, The Tablet

Pope calls for Greece and Turkey to de-escalate

Members of the Turkish government have threatened Greece with war over maritime territorial disputes.

Pope calls for Greece and Turkey to de-escalate

Two NATO warships off the coast of Crete, in the Mediterranean Sea, August 24, 2020

Pope Francis called attention to the rising tensions between Greece and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean in his Angelus address this Sunday.

After the recitation of the traditional Marian Prayer, Pope Francis told onlookers that he “follows with concern the tensions in the eastern Mediterranean”. Avoiding mentioning the nations involved, the holy father prayed for the “instability” in the area.

“I appeal for constructive dialogue and respect for international law  in order to resolve the conflicts that threaten the peace of the peoples of that region,” the Pope added. 

Tensions have escalated in the past few weeks between Greece and Turkey over what proportion of the Mediterranean sea can be judged to belong to each nation. At stake is potentially vast reserves of oil and natural gas in the region – something other mediterranean countries have already began to profit from. 

Greco-turkish relations have been strained for many decades, and the increased economic importance of maritime resources has led to military threats from both sides.  The two countries recently signed maritime agreements – Turkey with Lbya and Greece with Egypt – that outline clashing interpretations of the border between the two territories. 

Military maneuvers by both countries has continued to escalate the situation.  Two weeks ago Greek and Turkish frigates shadowing Oruc Reis, a Turkish survey ship, collided. Turkey's Defence Ministry said Turkish F-16 jets last week prevented six Greek F-16s entering an area where Turkey was operating. Although both Greece and Turkey are NATO members, the multinational alliance has so far been unable to resolve the issues between the two nations.

The EU has warned Turkey that it could face economic and diplomatic sanctions unless progress is made in reducing tensions, and a council of foreign ministers have reportedly agreed to a draft set of sanctions. On 30 August, the president of Turkey, Recep Erdogan yesterday took aim at the presidents of France and Greece,, calling both leaders “greedy and incompetent”. The Turkish foreign affairs minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu has been similarly bellicose, saying on Saturday 29 August that if Greece expands its maritime borders in the Aegean Sea, this will be a cause for war.

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