CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Greece and Turkey:
Aegean Issues — Background and
August 21, 1997
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Greece and Turkey: Aegean Issues — Background and
For many years, NATO allies Greece and Turkey have been adversaries in
bilateral disputes which have produced crises and even brought them to the brink of
war. One series of disputes involves Aegean Sea borders. The two disagree over the
border in the air, continental shelf, and territorial sea, over the status of islands in the
Sea, and over the ownership of Aegean islets.
In the aftermath of a January 1996 crisis over the sovereignty of the Imia/Kardak
islet, various dispute resolution initiatives were undertaken. NATO proposed
military-related confidence-building measures, some of which are being
implemented. The President of the European Union Council of Ministers proposed
a committee of wise men, which was accepted in the form of Greek and Turkish
committees of experts who are exchanging views via the President. In March 1996,
Turkey suggested ways to address Aegean issues. A year later, Greece made a
decisive overture that accelerated bilateral diplomacy. Finally, in July 1997, the
United States instigated a joint Greek-Turkish declaration of principles that is said
to equal a non-aggression pact. The principles have yet to be applied to specific
Whether or not Greece and Turkey want to change the nature of their relations
and resolve the Aegean disputes is uncertain. Strong motivations to resolve exist.
Greece wants to meet the criteria for joining the European Monetary Union and must
control defense spending to do so. It can only cut defense spending if the “Turkish
threat” recedes. Greece also wants to cultivate a more positive image in European
circles and its relations with Turkey are an impediment. Turkish secularists want to
be part of Europe and to stop Greek use of the veto in the European Union as a
weapon in bilateral disputes. The influential Turkish military may favor a
rapprochement with Athens. In both countries, however, there may be domestic
political constraints on policy change. In Greece, the legacy of former Prime
Minister Andreas Papandreou, who asserted that Turkey is the greatest threat to
Greece, affects the current government’s maneuverability. In Turkey, nationalist
former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit is now Deputy Prime Minister and the
government’s primary foreign policy spokesman, and there is no new thinking in
Ankara to match that of Athens.
The United States wants stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and, after the
Imia/Kardak crisis, sought to become more active in dispute resolution. U.S.
neutrality in the crisis, however, was perceived in Greece as favoritism toward
Turkey and prevented the United States from engaging immediately. The U.S. desire
to be a force for positive change persevered and reached fruition with the Madrid
declaration in July 1997. The United States is determined to stay on course and work
with the parties to apply the Madrid principles to specific disputes.
The prospects for Aegean resolutions are better now than they have been in
years, but domestic political developments in both Greece and Turkey could affect
the outlook detrimentally.
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
The Aegean Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Air . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Continental Shelf . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Territorial Sea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Islets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Dispute Resolution Initiatives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
NATO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
European Union . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Bilateral Diplomacy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
The Madrid Declaration — U.S. Diplomacy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Motivations for Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Greece . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Turkey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Constraints on Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Greece . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Turkey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
U.S. Policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Prospects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Greece and Turkey: Aegean Issues —
Background and Recent Developments
The United States and NATO look to Greece and Turkey to anchor stability in
the Eastern Mediterranean, a region bordering the unsettled Balkans and Middle East.
Often, however, the two allies are antagonists in bilateral disputes which have a
troubling incendiary potential. Since a January 1996 crisis over an islet in the
Aegean Sea took the neighbors to the brink of war,1 efforts have been made to
improve Greek-Turkish relations. Other divisive issues, notably those concerning
Cyprus,2 the Ecumenical (Greek Orthodox) Patriarchate and Greek Orthodox
community in Turkey, Muslim (mainly Turkish) citizens of Greek Thrace, the Kurds,
and the competition for regional allies, sometimes complicate the search for a
reasonable accommodation. Aside from Cyprus, however, these other issues are not
crisis-prone nor the subject of current diplomacy.
The Aegean Issues
The longest border between Greece and Turkey is in the Aegean Sea and has
been disputed in the air, in the sea, in the continental shelf, and on islands, islets, and
Since 1931, Greece has claimed airspace extending to 10 miles over the Aegean.
A country’s airspace rights usually coincide with its territorial sea rights. Greece
claims a six-mile sea limit. Therefore, other countries, including the United States,
recognize Greek airspace as only six miles. Turkish military aircraft challenge
Greece’s airspace claim by flying to within six miles of Greek islands. Greece
immediately accuses Turkey of airspace violations and scrambles its planes to
intercept the Turks. Continuous mock, and potentially dangerous “dogfights” ensue,
sometimes resulting in plane crashes.
Air traffic control issues parallel the airspace dispute. In 1952, the International
Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) assigned Greece air traffic control for the
See CRS Report 96-140, Greece and Turkey: the Rocky Islet Crisis, Updated March 7,
1996, by (name redacted).
The subject of a separate CRS product: Issue Brief 89140, Cyprus: Status of U.N.
Negotiations, by (name redacted), updated regularly.
Aegean Flight Information Region (FIR), i.e., international and Greek domestic
airspace over the Aegean up to Turkish national airspace. After the Cyprus crisis of
1974, Turkey required all planes approaching its airspace to report after reaching the
Aegean median line in order to enable military radar to distinguish innocent flights
from aggressors. Greece said that this impinged on its FIR authority and abrogated
responsibility for air safety over the Aegean. International airlines reacted by ceasing
direct flights between Greece and Turkey. Closure of the Aegean detrimentally
affected commercial air flights over the Sea to other areas. The situation was
resolved in 1980, when the pre-1974 status quo was restored and international flights
resumed over the Aegean. In general, Turkey claims that FIR is a technical issue that
Greece interprets and exploits as a matter of sovereignty to restrict Turkish aircraft
and exercises over the Aegean.
The dispute over the definition of the continental shelf involves maritime
resources as well as sovereignty. Turkey claims that the continental shelf under the
Aegean is an extension of its Anatolian or Asia Minor land mass and that the
continental shelf border is a median line between the two mainland coasts. Greece
claims that islands have continental shelves and that the continental shelf border is
a median line between the Turkish coast and eastern Greek islands, which fringe the
Turkish mainland. In support of its position, Greece cites a 1958 United Nations
Convention on the Continental Shelf and the more recent U.N. Convention on the
Law of the Sea, which recognize that islands generate continental shelves. Greece
is a signatory of both Conventions, but Turkey is not and rejects Greece’s claim as
The continental shelf dispute has provoked two crises. In November 1973,
Turkey granted oil exploration rights in what it called international waters in the
Aegean, adjacent to several Greek islands. In February 1974, Greece protested that
the area was part of its continental shelf. That May, the Turkish government sent a
research vessel into the area, with an escort of 32 warships. At a May 1975 summit
of the Greek and Turkish Prime Ministers, Turkey appeared to agree to submit the
dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Governmental instability in
Ankara, however, rendered the apparent accord obsolete and Turkey sent in another
research vessel accompanied by a warship. Greece appealed to the U.N. Security
Council to address Turkey’s violations of its sovereignty and unilaterally petitioned
the ICJ for a determination of continental shelf rights. The U.N. Security Council
passed an ambiguously worded Resolution 395 (1976), calling for both direct
negotiations and judicial recourse. The ICJ rejected Greece’s request for interim
measures, what U.S. courts would call a temporary injunction, because of Greece’s
failure to show irreparable harm. It also declined jurisdiction, which depends on the
consent of both parties to a dispute.
The second crisis occurred in 1987, when Greece granted oil exploration rights
in the continental shelf near its island of Thasos and Turkey granted similar rights in
waters near the Greek island of Samothrace. A Turkish ship went to work, with a far
smaller naval escort than in the 1970s. Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou
threatened to take all necessary measures to protect Greece’s sovereignty. The crisis
abated after intense NATO and U.S. mediation, with each country assuring the other
that exploration would only occur in its own, undisputed territorial waters.
Greece proposes that both countries jointly petition the ICJ for a determination
of continental shelf limits. The demarcation of the continental shelf is the only
Aegean dispute for which Greece is willing to petition the Court jointly with Turkey
for a resolution and accept an arbitral compromise. On all other Aegean issues,
Greece maintains that Turkey must initiate a petition for legal recourse because it is
disputing established Greek sovereign rights.
In 1936, Greece claimed a territorial sea of six nautical miles. It reserved the
right to claim a 12-nautical-mile limit — a right later codified in the U.N.
Convention on the Law of the Sea which the Greek parliament ratified in May 1995.
As noted above, Turkey is not a signatory of the Convention. In response to the
Greek parliament’s action, on June 8, 1995, the Turkish parliament gave its
government authority to take all necessary measures, including military ones, if
Greece exercised the right to 12 miles and increased its territorial waters. Greece has
never affirmatively exercised the right to 12 miles. If Greece claims 12 miles, then
it would claim over two-thirds of the Aegean Sea. On June 12, 1974, in the context
of the continental shelf dispute (above), Turkey had formally declared for the first
time that an extension of Greek territorial waters to 12 nautical miles would
constitute a casus belli (cause of war). Turkish officials reiterated this position many
times, contending that a Greek territorial sea of 12 nautical miles would “strangle”
Turkey and transform the Aegean into a “Greek lake.” Turkey believes that Greek
control of the Aegean could threaten its access to international waters. Over twothirds of Turkey’s commercial traffic transits the Sea. Greece says that it would
ensure other countries’ rights of innocent passage.
There are about 2,400 islands in the Aegean; almost all are Greek and about 100
are inhabited. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne mandated the demilitarization of several
islands then given to Greece in the eastern Aegean. Italy ceded the Dodecanese
Islands to Greece by the Treaty of Paris in 1947, which required their demilitarization
as well. Greece began militarizing eastern Aegean islands in 1960, and accelerated
the program after the Cyprus crisis of 1974. Greece’s militarization of Lemnos and
Samothrace, at the entrance to the Straits of the Dardanelles, is of great concern to
Turkey. Greece militarized the Dodecanese for “self-defense” after 1974. Turkey
contends that Greece’s actions violate the Lausanne and Paris Treaties. Greece
argues that the relevant provisions of Lausanne were superseded in 1936, with the
Montreux Convention of 1936, which authorized Turkey to militarize and control
military traffic through the Straits. Greece also claims that its actions are defensive.
After the fact, in 1975, Turkey established its Fourth Army based in Izmir on the
Aegean coast. The Fourth Army has an amphibious landing force capable, in theory,
of seizing Greek islands. Greece says that the Fourth Army must be redeployed
before it reduces its military presence around Turkey. The respective Greek and
Turkish positions, however, may be more political irritation than military threat.
When Turks complain about the militarized Greek islands, some Greeks raise
the fate of two previously predominantly Greek-inhabited islands, Imvros (Gokceada)
and Tenedos (Bozcaada), in the northern Aegean near the entrance to the Straits that
the Treaty of Lausanne granted to Turkey. The Treaty required Turkey to guarantee
non-Muslim persons and property. According to Greece, Turkey’s discriminatory
and confiscatory policies instead forced most Greeks to leave.
Sovereignty over Aegean islets and rocks was not in dispute until December
1995, when a Turkish merchant captain refused to have his vessel rescued by a
Greece ship near an uninhabited islet (Imia to Greece, Kardak to Turkey) that he said
was Turkish.3 Both countries’ media exploited the situation, prompting government
and military involvement. The parties returned to status quo ante after U.S.
intercession. Subsequently, a Turkish naval officer appeared to question Greek
sovereignty of the island of Gavdos, near Crete, at a NATO planning session.
Although the Turkish Foreign Ministry said that Gavdos was a technical not a
political question, Turkish officials began to refer to “grey areas,” i.e., islets and
rocks, not specifically mentioned in treaties, whose sovereignty may be unresolved.
They later said that there were 130 such islets and rocks. Greece demanded that
Turkey deny it had claims to Gavdos.
Dispute Resolution Initiatives
Since the Imia/Kardak crisis, several initiatives have been undertaken to resolve
the Aegean disputes.
Soon after the crisis, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana proposed
confidence-building measures (CBMs) based on a May 1988 Memorandum of
Understanding between Karolos Papoulias and Mesut Yilmaz, the Greek and Turkish
Foreign Ministers, respectively. In the Memorandum, Turkey and Greece agreed that
1) respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other and their
rights to use the high seas and international airspace of the Aegean;
2) avoid interfering with shipping and air traffic while conducting military
activities in the high seas and international airspace; and
3) avoid conducting military exercises in the high seas and international
airspace during the peak tourism period of July 1- September 1 and main
national and religious holidays.
See, CRS Report 96-140, Greece and Turkey: the Rocky Islet Crisis, cited above.
In September 1988, Papoulias and Yilmaz signed Guidelines for the Prevention of
Accidents and Incidents on the High Seas and International Airspace, which called,
inter alia, for the parties to act in conformity with international regulations.
Solana renewed his CBM effort in February 1997. His proposals, strongly
supported by the United States, called for
1) a moratorium on military exercises between June 15-September 15;
2) combat training missions only by unarmed planes;
3) planes to use identification, friend or foe devices (IFF) (instead of
submitting flight plans) to preclude intercepts, reduce the need to scramble
interceptors, and decrease the number of mock dog fights;
4) direct communication between Greek and Turkish air defense operations
5) establishment of a center at NATO Command Headquarters in Naples
to monitor Aegean airspace operations.4
Turkey agreed to the proposals, with modifications. Greece agreed to the moratorium
on military exercises for the proposed period, while Turkey agreed to July 1-August
15 and said it would use IFF during that time. As it has done for decades, Greece
rejected use of IFF because it carved out a special exception to the Athens FIR, which
it said applies to all countries. Turkey called for an exchange of information
concerning flights in the Aegean, which Greece also considered an infringement of
its FIR responsibilities. Greece refused to disarm its combat aircraft in its national
airspace, but said that training flights would not be armed. Greece reportedly agreed
to hotlines between Athens and NATO and Turkey and NATO. Beginning in
February 1997, the two sides began a test program of sending pictures of Aegean
activity to NATO headquarters in Naples.
During its 1997 turn as President of the European Union Council of Ministers,
the Netherlands proposed a committee of “wise men” to deal with Greek-Turkish
Aegean issues. Greece did not want either a direct dialogue with Turkey that might
be perceived as a willingness to negotiate what it views as its non-negotiable
sovereignty issues or the involvement of third parties. It counterproposed the
creation of separate Greek and Turkish committees of non-governmental experts who
would report to the Dutch Presidency, which then would evaluate the reports for
Turkey accepted the Dutch proposal and the Greek
counterproposal. After 32 deputies of the ruling Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement
(PASOK) voiced opposition to a Greek-Turkish dialogue in any form, the Greek
government explained that the committees’ conclusions would be technical and
procedural, not political or binding. The experts handed in reports to the Dutch to
Defense Department briefing, May 15, 1997. Reuters.
give to the other party for comment. The Dutch wanted the experts to meet; Turkey
agreed, but Greece refused. The Dutch Presidency handed an incomplete mission
over to Luxembourg at the end of its tenure. After exchanges of comments via the
Presidency, Greek officials accepted that a meeting could take place in the fall.
On March 24, 1996, Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz offered to enter into
negotiations with Greece without preconditions with a view to settling all Aegean
issues as a whole on the basis of respect for international law and agreements
establishing the status quo in the Aegean. The proposal included talks on a political
framework agreement, agreement on military-related confidence-building measures,
avoidance of unilateral steps and actions that could increase tension, and a
comprehensive process of peaceful settlement, including third party arbitration.5
Yilmaz made his offer too soon after the Imia/Kardak crisis for Greek
sensitivities. The Greeks were not yet ready to advance and initially said that they
found the proposal lacking a commitment. Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos
later welcomed Yilmaz’s suggestions as “a great improvement,” but proposed a step
by step solution instead. He said, “We should create a joint committee to discuss the
agreement in legal terms. Next, we can revive the committees on good
neighborliness to promote cooperation in mutually beneficial areas: trade, tourism
and anti-drug smuggling. Once we reach that level, it might facilitate a mutual
slackening of the two countries’ military presence in the Aegean.”6 On April 26,
1996, the Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministers agreed to have their Ministries’
experts meet in Switzerland. For domestic consumption, Pangalos underscored that
“there is no organized dialogue or negotiations.” Pangalos later expressed concern
that his Turkish counterpart at the time, Emre Gonensay, had spoken of “grey areas,”
disputing Greece’s ownership of other islets or rocks.7 Greece canceled a June 1996
Pangalos-Gonensay meeting because of what it termed Turkey’s “provocations,” i.e.,
incidents wherein Turkey appeared to question Greece’s sea and airspace rights, as
well as governmental instability in Ankara. Greece called on Turkey to implement
the Papoulias-Yilmaz measures.
On March 6, 1997, Foreign Minister Pangalos, prodded by U.S. officials to
make a positive gesture toward Ankara, said in Washington that “Turkey certainly
belongs to Europe.” He amplified the point to a Turkish journalist on March 21,
“Turkey’s ultimate objective must be to integrate with Europe. Greece definitely
wants it to do so.”8 Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Foreign Minister Pangalos set
conditions for improved relations and for Greece to lift its veto on about U.S.$475
million in European Union aid to Turkey that had been promised as part of a March
Turkish Embassy press release, March 24, 1996.
Greece: Nation “Shocked’ by Turkey’s Aegean Claims. The European. April 4-10, 1996,
Greek foreign minister anxious about Turkish invasion. Reuters, May 8, 1996.
Pangalos on Turkish-Greek Ties, Yeni Yuzyil, March 21, 1997, translated by FBIS online,
March 21, 1997.
1995 EU-Turkish customs union accord. The Greek officials demanded that Turkey
renounce violence, i.e., retract its threat of war if Athens extends its territorial waters
to 12 nautical miles, even though Greece did not intend to exercise its right
immediately; accept borders delineated by international treaties, although matters
pertaining to interpretation and implementation of this framework could be
discussed; and recognize the ICJ as a judicial mechanism with jurisdiction for settling
of bilateral disputes. To assuage domestic critics, government officials insisted that
Greece would not engage in overall negotiations leading to a redelineation of
In April 1997, the Greek and Turkish deputy foreign ministers and foreign
ministers had more cordial contacts than previously, which prepared for the EU
experts committees (above) and the Madrid declaration (below). Then Turkish
Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller may have been especially encouraging, saying that
Ankara does not want a change in the Aegean status quo. One Greek analyst
interpreted this as Turkey abandoning a demand that the Aegean regime be reviewed,
saying it can live with the current situation, and that war was not among the measures
to resolve Greek-Turkish differences. In response, Pangalos acknowledged a new
“spirit of understanding.”10
Finally, in a May 19 interview with Greek television, Turkish President
Suleyman Demirel said he could agree to a non-aggression pact with Greece.11 On
June 5, Pangalos said that Greece likewise was ready to sign a non-aggression pact
The Madrid Declaration — U.S. Diplomacy
On July 8, 1997, at the NATO summit in Madrid, U.S. Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright invited Greek Foreign Minister Pangalos and his new Turkish
counterpart Ismail Cem to agree on six principles to govern bilateral relations. Prime
Minister Simitis and President Demirel then endorsed the principles, which Simitis
said amount to a non-aggression pact. Assistant Secretary of State for European
Affairs John Kornblum and his team worked to achieve the accord. The principles
1) mutual commitment to peace, security and the continuing development
of good-neighborly relations;
2) respect for each other’s sovereignty;
3) respect for the principles of international law and international
Greece threatens to veto Turkey customs union aid, Reuters, March 21, 1996; Embassy of
Greece Press Releases, April 4 and 24, 1997.
Nikos Marakis, Pangalos-Ciller Istanbul Meeting, To Vima Tis Kiriakis, May 4, 1997, p.
3, 4, translated by FBIS, May 5, 1997.
Athens TV Interviews Turkish President. English text: FBIS online, May 27, 1997.
4) respect for each other’s legitimate vital interests and concerns in the
5) a commitment to refrain from unilateral acts on the basis of mutual
respect and a willingness to avoid conflicts arising from misunderstanding;
6) a commitment to settle disputes by peaceful means based on mutual
consent and without use of force or threat of force.
The final two provisions may have the greatest potential to deter conflict
because they address matters that have been most provocative. Greece is committed
to refrain from unilateral acts — which may include the exercise of its right to a 12nautical mile territorial sea, while Turkey promises not to use force, eliminating the
casus belli. The principles do not address or resolve specific Aegean disputes and
the hard task will be in their application.
Motivations for Change
Both countries have become motivated to improve bilateral relations by external
influences that could benefit their internal development. The European Union
appears to be the primary force for change.
In contrast to recent governments in Athens, the Simitis government has a
distinctly Eurocentric outlook and wants to meet the European Union criteria for
joining the European Monetary Union (EMU) and to increase its competitiveness
with European countries which meet the criteria before Greece. Those criteria
include a budget deficit of not more than 3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and
a government debt of not more than 60% of GDP. For 1997, Greece’s budget deficit
is expected to be 6.2% of GDP and its government debt is forecast at 108% of GDP.12
Among EU member states, Greece spends the highest proportion of its GDP on
defense,13 and this expenditure manifestly contributes to deficits and debt. To get
them under control, Greece must cut military spending. No Greek government,
however, can make such cuts without also diminishing the “Turkish threat” which
propels the expenditures. In the wake of the Imia/Kardak crisis, in June 1996, even
the Simitis government, otherwise fiscally conservative, announced a new multibillion dollar arms program. Nonetheless, largely because of their European
orientation, Prime Minister Simitis and Foreign Minister Pangalos are likely to
persist in their outreach to Turkey, knowing that a costly arms race could block
convergence with Europe and that the only alternative to it is peace in the
A little EMU enlightenment, The Economist, February 22, 1997, p. 88.
In 1995, Greece spent 5.5% of its GDP on defense, while Turkey spent 4.0%. U.S. Arms
Control and Disarmament Agency, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, online
Greece has used its veto power within the EU as a weapon to retaliate against
Turkey for bilateral disputes. Each veto has distanced Greece from its European
partners. For eight years, Greece had blocked the EU’s customs union accord with
Turkey, relenting in 1995 only when the EU agreed to begin membership talks with
Cyprus, which is led by an independent Greek Cypriot government. After the
January 1996 islet crisis, the new Simitis government vetoed both a new EU
assistance program for Mediterranean countries (MEDA) because Turkey was
included and aid to Turkey that was promised as part of the customs union accord.
France, Spain, and Italy conceived of MEDA as a major EU foreign policy initiative.
They and other EU members were angered by Greece’s veto of MEDA, which denied
innocent third countries aid intended to advance European economic and security
goals by contributing to the development and stabilization of those countries.14 After
complaints from its European partners, Greece lifted its veto of MEDA in May 1996.
It has, however, continued to veto the customs union funds. Pangalos has said that
the veto will continue until “Turkish aggressiveness” ends.
As Greece seeks to be less of an outsider within an enlarging EU, it may be
rethinking its policy tools and approaches toward Turkey. It may be considering
options other than using its EU veto for dealing with Turkey. This likely would
require a change in Greek perceptions of Turkish aggressiveness. Alternate Foreign
Minister George Papandreou has elaborated the need for a policy change, arguing that
Greece must present a more positive image of itself to Europe so that it would no
longer be considered obstructionist. Papandreou called on Greece to shape future
Greek-Turkish relations constructively and not rely on vetoes. He urged Turkey and
Greece to seek pragmatic criteria for rapprochement.15
Finally, Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis has had an
exaggerated impact in both Greece and Turkey, although it is not a U.S. policy
statement.16 Huntington forecast that culture will produce a redivision of the world
and new conflicts. He drew a cultural fault line across Europe between Western
Christianity on the one hand and Orthodox Christianity and Islam on the other.17
This theoretical division places Greece outside of and in potential opposition to
Western Europe and has outraged Greek academics and politicians. In March 1997,
when Europe’s Christian Democratic party leaders appeared to follow Huntington by
declaring the Turkey could not be part of Europe because it is Muslim, some Greeks
feared that they would be beyond the pale as well. Thus, Pangalos was defending
Greece’s position in Europe when he said that Turkey must be part of Europe. If
Huntington had somehow linked the Aegean neighbors, Greece would use the bond
In addition to Turkey, MEDA aids Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Malta,
Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Tunisia.
George Papandreou commentary in To Vima Tis Kiriakis, June 1, 1997, p. 14, translated
by FBIS on June 1.
Samuel P. Huntington, The clash of civilizations? Foreign Affairs, v. 72, summer 1993,
pp. 22-49; also The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, New York,
Simon & Schuster, 1996. Huntington is Professor of Government and Director of the John
Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.
Foreign Affairs, pp. 29-30.
to draw European borders widely, encompassing Turkey and ensuring that Greece
remained inside. In order to be in a position to pull Turkey into Europe thus defined,
Greece must improve its bilateral relations with Turkey.18
The Turkish secular elites have just experienced what they consider to have
been a close call with Islamism — a year, from July 1996 through June 1997, in
which the Islamist Refah Party headed the national government.19 The secularists
seek to reinforce Turkey’s modern, European identity through ties with and especially
membership in the European Union. Some in Turkey also are very preoccupied with
the Huntington thesis, noted above, and would like to disprove it by showing that
Turkey is, in fact, European. Turkey’s tortured relations with Greece have been one
of the main barriers to improved Turkish relations with Europe. Europe, therefore,
provides an incentive for some Turks to seek to resolve bilateral disputes with
Unlikely as it may seem, the influential Turkish military may be a force for
better relations with Greece. The Turkish General Staff generally takes a moderate
position on Aegean issues and Greek-Turkish relations (perhaps excepting Cyprus)
and wants to improve them. In 1980, after years in which Turkish civilian
governments had blocked the move, a military junta in Ankara delinked the issue of
Greece’s reintegration with NATO from Turkish complaints about the FIR. More
recently, Chief of the General Staff Ismail Hakki Karadayi made the first official
response to Pangalos at a reception at the Greek Embassy in Ankara on March 25.
General Karadayi called on politicians and soldiers to show “common sense” to
resolve problems in the way in which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Eleftherios
Venizelos, the respective and respected Turkish and Greek leaders, did when they
signed the 1930 Treaty of Friendship, Non-Aggression, and Arbitration. Karadayi
said that he was “forcing this door (to Greece) open.”20
Constraints on Change
In Greece and Turkey, domestic politics constrain overall efforts to improve
bilateral relations and specific initiatives to resolve Aegean disputes.
It should be noted that although Greek officials say Turkey is part of Europe, they have
not advocated Turkey’s EU membership per se.
See CRS Report 97-462F, Turkey’s Unfolding Political Crisis, by (name redacted),
April 11, 1997.
TRT Television Network report, March 25, 1997, translated by FBIS online, March 16,
The legacy of Andreas Papandreou, founder of PASOK and twice Prime
Minister,21 may impede the Simitis government’s maneuverability in its policy
toward Turkey. The charismatic Papandreou had asserted that Turkey, Greece’s
NATO ally, was the greatest threat to Greece. Papandreou’s dogma is still influential
in Greece and in PASOK, now led by Costas Simitis. PASOK has a majority of 162
out of 300 seats in the Greek parliament and must stay cohesive in order to carry out
its program. When 32 PASOK deputies questioned Greece’s acceptance of the
committee of experts, they signalled the potential political risks of policy innovation.
Some 22 PASOK deputies later charged that, with the Madrid declaration, Greece
was “gradually slipping into choices that result in recognition of Turkish claims,
legalization of Ankara’s expansionist status, and an expiation of its policies.”22 Some
smaller opposition parties were more alarmist. Democratic Social Movement leader
Dimitrios Tsovalas, who considers himself an heir to the Papandreist mantle, accused
the government of opening the road to ceding national rights, calling the agreement
“harmful for Greece, for our territorial integrity, and for our national interests.”23
Within the government, Defense Minister Tsokhatzopoulos and Education
Minister Yerasimos Arsenis are known for their hardline views toward Turkey.
Tsokhatzopoulos was a close Papandreou associate and the security requirements of
his Defense portfolio may reinforce his anti-Turkism. Simitis defeated both
Tsokhatzopoulos and Arsenis in the internal PASOK contest to succeed Papandreou
as Prime Minister in January 1996 and Tsokhatzopoulos in a June 1996 vote for party
leader. Although they have publicly supported the policy steps toward Turkey that
Simitis and Pangalos have taken so far, Tsokhatzopoulos and Arsenis may be waiting
for Simitis to stumble in order take internal party and general domestic political
advantage of a failure.
Prime Minister Simitis and Foreign Minister Pangalos cannot get out too far
ahead of their party rivals, parliamentarians, and rank and file. Thus, after party
dissent was voiced, Pangalos offered a restrictive definition of the committees of
experts’ mandate. He and others still resort to anti-Turkish rhetoric. Playing to
dissidents and rivals rhetorically, however, may constrain Simitis’ and Pangalos’
effort to lead and to shape public opinion in support of their policy toward Turkey.
And it is heard in Turkey, where it breeds skepticism about Greece’s sincerity and
acts as a disincentive for improving ties.
Simitis and Pangalos may be able to overcome domestic political constraints.
The 32 dissenters decreased rapidly to 22 and may not be a solid bloc, threatening
foreign policy innovation. Tsokhatzopoulos and Arsenis may be perceived in the
party as losers and lack following to pose a real challenge. Tsokhatzopoulos is as
Greek PASOK Deputies Criticize Madrid Communique, Athens News Agency, July 11,
1997, carried by FBIS online, July 14, 1997.
Greece: Opposition Party Leader Scores Greek-Turkish Accords, Athens ET-1 Television,
16 July 1997, translation carried by FBIS online, July 18, 1997.
much a PASOK loyalist as he was a Papandreou loyalist and may defer to his party
leader’s will. Moreover, New Democracy, the main opposition party, has reacted
reservedly to the Turkish outreach and, therefore, may be inclined to support it. The
support of the internationalist Coalition of the Left for the policy is a given. Finally,
important elements in the Greek press have made common cause with Simitis and
their influence should not be underestimated.
Nevertheless, the Papandreou legacy of antipathy toward Turkey produces other
Greek actions which harm attempts to improve bilateral ties and resolve Aegean
disputes. Greece seeks, and has signed, military agreements with Turkey’s neighbors
which have problematic relations with Turkey, notably Syria and Armenia, adding
to Turkey’s perception of “encirclement.” Greece’s conduct on the Kurdish issue
particularly sours relations. Turks view the 13-year Kurdish Workers Party (PKK)
insurgency as a threat to their territorial integrity. In April 1997, 110 out of 300
Members of the Parliament of Greece proposed to invite PKK leader Abdullah
Ocalan to Athens. The government quickly said that it did not intend to invite him.
Greek MPs have visited PKK camps and Turkey accuses Greece of arming the PKK,
which Athens denies. Turkey has a record of human rights abuses toward Kurds.
But Greece sometimes appears highly selective in its human rights advocacy,
focusing on the Kurds and not other issues such as the treatment of Turks and other
Muslims in Europe. Moreover, Greek championship of Kurdish human rights in the
EU helps deny Ankara dearly sought closer ties with Europe and feeds anti-Greek
sentiment in Turkey.
Finally, there is a strong Cyprus lobby in Athens opposed to any initiatives that
would produce a Greek-Turkish reconciliation before a Cyprus settlement, which
traditionally has been a Greek precondition for a rapprochement. The U.N. has
resumed the Cyprus negotiations, but the outlook for a solution is uncertain or
gloomy. Cyprus thus could stymie Aegean peacemaking.
Ankara now has its third government since an inconclusive national election in
December 1995, and an early election may be held in 1998. This governmental
instability may affect relations with Greece as politicians exploit foreign policy for
domestic consumption and leave their weak coalition little room for compromise.
The Islamist-led government that was in office through June 1997 was directed
toward the East and selected Muslim countries. It paid almost no attention to Greece
because its rank and file had little, if any, interest. The current seemingly
mismatched coalition of right and left is led by Mesut Yilmaz, who made the
overture to Greece in March 1996 after the Imia/Kardak crisis. However, Deputy
Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has emerged as the government’s main foreign policy
spokesman, and his party controls the Foreign Ministry and the State Ministry in
charge of Cyprus policy. Ecevit was Prime Minister in 1974, when Turkey
intervened in/invaded Cyprus and remains proud of what he accomplished then.
Ecevit’s nationalism on Cyprus could interfere with the Aegean opening. Yilmaz
depends on Ecevit’s party to stay in power and has little ability or perhaps wish to
constrain him. Shortly after taking power this time, Ecevit initiated a move toward
partial “integration” of (Turkish) northern Cyprus with Turkey as a response to the
EU’s announcement of membership talks with the (Greek) Cypriot government.
As noted, a resolution of the Cyprus issue has been a traditional Greek
precondition for improved ties with Turkey. Athens and the Greek media in
particular reacted strongly to Ecevit’s return to power and his Cyprus policy. Ecevit
may contribute to a disruption of the renewed U.N. effort to obtain a Cyprus
settlement24 and, thereby, set back Turkish-Greek relations on other fronts. Greek
officials may not be able to persist in their outreach to Turkey if Ecevit’s impact is
Ecevit may have another, more indirect, impact on Greek-Turkish relations.
With him in the government, better ties with Europe may not be as strong an
incentive for improving relations with Greece. Although Prime Minister Yilmaz has
said that speeding up efforts toward full membership in the EU is a priority foreign
policy aim of the government,25 many Turks perceive Europe as repeatedly rejecting
Turkey and some want to reject Europe in response. Ecevit and others call for the
customs union accord to be reviewed because Europe has failed to live up to its (aid)
commitments and because the customs union has aggravated Turkey’s trade
imbalance with Europe and harmed Turkish businesses. Turks know that Greece’s
veto is the impediment to aid. On the other hand, those still lured to Europe perceive
Greece’s policy of “veto” of Turkey’s relations with Europe as an obstacle to their
Western identity, potentially reinforcing support for Islamists. They may not be
disposed to look benevolently on improving ties to Greece.
Finally, Turkey looms larger in Greek thinking than vice versa. The particular
Aegean initiatives have not produced a reaction in Turkey comparable to that in
Greece. Despite Turkey’s agreeing to the Madrid declaration, there appears to be no
thinking in Ankara on the details of Aegean issues or bilateral Turkish-Greek
relations comparable to that of Pangalos in Athens. Political leaders are preoccupied
domestically with Islamism and government turnovers, and the foreign policy
establishment revises views slowly. Although General Karadayi made positive
comments in March, the military is engrossed in fighting what it refers to as the two
main threats to Turkish national security — Islamism and (Kurdish) separatism. It
is not clear if it will have a sustained and involved interest in engaging itself actively
on behalf of an Aegean resolution. Two parties are required to create a new
paradigm to govern bilateral relations and Turkey does not appear to be fully
The United States wants to preserve stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, a
region bordered by conflict zones. It also wants to prevent NATO from being
embroiled in local controversies. In order to achieve these goals, the United States
For the first time in over 3 years, the U.N. convened direct talks between (Greek) Cypriot
President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash on July 9 in New
York and in Switzerland on August 9. Heightened activity is expected after the February
1998 Cypriot presidential election. See, CRS Issue Brief 89140, cited above.
Yilmaz Presents Government Program, TRT Television Network, July 7, 1987, translation
carried by FBIS, July 8, 1997.
has tried to remain neutral in and worked to resolve disputes between its two NATO
allies, Greece and Turkey. Yet neutrality has not always been appreciated. Greeks
maintain that an equidistant U.S. stance benefits Turkey and ignores what they
believe is the right (Greek) position on Aegean issues. Greece’s view of the regional
power balance, with Turkey as the more powerful player, necessitates that it
seek/demand third party or international intervention to level the scales or to weigh
them in Greece’s favor. U.S. neutrality fails to fulfill that need. On the other hand,
Turkey, as the larger power, assumes it can obtain a more favorable outcome from
negotiations solely between the two governments and usually calls for dialogue.
Turks believe that they are the more important regional ally of the United States,
adjacent to the Middle East and the Caucasus. They do not criticize U.S. neutrality,
and generally appreciate and expect U.S. services in mediating controversies with
Greece and in moderating their effect on Turkey’s relations with Europe because the
United States supports Turkey’s entry into the European Union.
Neutrality evidently interfered with U.S.-Greek relations after the Imia/Kardak
crisis, when then Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Richard
Holbrooke had planned to travel to Greece and Turkey to help them achieve a more
permanent end to tensions in the Aegean. He did not make the trip. Holbrooke had
brokered a resolution to the crisis that appeared to restore the prior balance in the
Aegean. But many in Greece perceived it differently. They saw the crisis as one of
Turkey questioning long-established territorial rights and the status quo in the
Aegean. Holbrooke had failed to address the crisis in these terms and instead
concentrated on eliminating the immediate threat of war. Greeks did not view his
achievement on Imia/Kardak favorably. The newly established government in
Athens that had accepted the U.S. resolution was weakened temporarily. It did not
have sufficient political capital to expend at the time on a meeting with Holbrooke
and diplomatically found his trip schedule inconvenient. Ankara stood ready to
welcome Holbrooke and regretted that the visit was canceled.
Although no U.S. initiative on Aegean issues was undertaken in 1996, the
brinkmanship of Imia/Kardak was not forgotten. The islet crisis had focused U.S.
attention on the tinderbox of Greek-Turkish relations. During Prime Minister
Simitis’ April 9, 1996, visit to White House, President Clinton said
I hope the United States can be helpful in resolving some of the problems
in the Aegean.... We believe that all these issues should be resolved
without the use of force, without the threat of force, with everyone
agreeing to abide by international agreements and to respect the territorial
integrity of other countries.... We favor the resolution (of the Imia
situation) by referring the matter to the ICJ or some other international
In this statement, the President seemed to accept Greece’s perspective on the Aegean
in deference to his visitor and to reclaim Greece’s recognition of the United States
as a bona fide intermediary.
Transcript, Reuters, April 9, 1996.
The Administration has worked to resolve Greek-Turkish differences through
NATO and by itself, with Defense Department and the State Department officials
meeting often with Greek and Turkish counterparts in the region and in Washington.
The Defense Department supports the NATO Secretary General’s confidencebuilding measures. The State Department champions these measures and more. U.S.
Ambassador to Greece Thomas Niles declared that the United States believes that the
1988 Papoulias-Yilmaz agreement must be fully implemented and that it is desirable
to proceed beyond it.27 Finally, the State Department assiduously sought and
obtained Greek and Turkish agreement to the Madrid declaration.
The State Department views Madrid as an important first step. It is encouraging
the parties to apply the Madrid principles in the resolution of their various disputes
and to acknowledge the need for trade-offs. The first trade-off may involve Turkey
taking the Imia/Kardak controversy to the World Court in exchange for Greece lifting
its veto on European Union customs union aid. But more work needs to be done. As
is said with regard to other international disputes in which Washington attempts to
obtain a settlement, the United States cannot want a resolution more than the parties
As Aegean issues are addressed, the United States may have to recuse itself
from the airspace controversy, an irritant in Greek-U.S. relations. Greek journalists
persistently bait State Department briefers to restate U.S. policy, which conforms to
international practice. Each restatement prompts annoyed official reactions from
Athens. This matter will continue to fester because the territorial sea-airspace
incongruity is unlikely to be resolved. This U.S.-Greek policy dispute is otherwise
not a regular subject of official exchanges and highlights the negative impact the
media can have on U.S.-Greek and Greek-Turkish relations. Greek and Turkish
media are foreign policy actors producing unexpected consequences.
Congress has not weighed in on recent developments. Since the 1970s, foreign
aid legislation has applied a “balance of forces” policy to Greece and Turkey. It tilts
toward Greece, which many Members view as facing a demographically and
militarily superior adversary in Turkey.28 Congressional resolutions proposed, but
not passed, after the Imia/Kardak crisis mirrored Athens’ position.
History prompts circumspection about the prospects for a resolution of Aegean
disputes and for a Greek-Turkish reconciliation. Other efforts have not been
successful. The 1987 crisis over the continental shelf produced the evocative “Spirit
of Davos,” Switzerland, where Turkish and Greek Prime Ministers met and began a
U.S. Ambassador Interviewed on Greek-Turkish Issues, I Kathimerini, November 27,
1996, translated by FBIS online, December 1, 1996.
See CRS Issue Brief 86065, Greece and Turkey: Current Foreign Aid Issues, by (name
redacted), updated regularly.
short-lived rapprochement in 1988 that foundered on the shoals of domestic politics.
Nonetheless, the overall prospects for improved Greek-Turkish relations and for
a resolution of some bilateral Aegean issues may be better today than they have been
in a decade and may justify some cautious optimism. The major contributing factor
to such an assessment is the strong domestic position and motivation of the Athens
government, which has made sweeping, unprecedented policy statements on GreekTurkish issues. For example, Pangalos said that Greece accepts that “Turkey has
vital interests in Aegean.”29 The Simitis government also may be willing to lift the
Cyprus precondition to better relations with Turkey. Foreign Minister Pangalos
distinguished Cyprus as an international issue from the Aegean as a national issue,
and Prime Minister Simitis asserted outright that Greek-Turkish relations and the
Cyprus question are not connected.30
Further, as noted above (p. 7), Greek officials had laid out three conditions for
improved bilateral relations. Turkey met two of them with the Madrid declaration.
The only remaining condition concerns Court jurisdiction over the islet dispute.
Pangalos has eased the way for compliance by saying that all Turkey has to do is say
that it is willing to go to the World Court. For their part, the Turks had wanted direct
negotiations to precede recourse to the Court. Prime Minister Yilmaz implied that
requirement may be met by a meeting of committees of experts when he observed
that the committees can lead Turkey to the Court.31 If Turkey agrees to go to the
Court, thereby recognizing Greece’s need for an international forum, Greece would
have no justification for not lifting lift its veto on European Union customs union aid
to Turkey. In a possibly upbeat scenario, lifting of the veto would do much to
assuage hard feelings toward Greece in Turkey.
The outlook for the resolution of the different Aegean issues varies.
! The islet dispute may be open to resolution because its onset was largely
unintended. Greece and Turkey blundered into the Imia/Kardak crisis, which
some consider a media creation that got out of hand. Turkey subsequently
could not find a face-saving way to back down from the notion of “grey areas”
and may have made it worse. The two sides acceptance of the status quo in
Madrid underscores that their lack of interest in perpetuating the unsettling
byproducts of the islet controversy. The separate issue of militarized islands,
however, is unlikely to be resolved because Turkey will not move or change
its 4th Army — at least until given long-term evidence of Greece’s friendship.
! Of the older Aegean disputes, the continental shelf may be ripe for settlement.
Greece maintains that it is a legal question to be resolved by the International
Pangalos interview, Ta Nea, July 21, 1007, pp. 10-11, translation carried by FBIS online,
July 23, 1997.
Interview: A Tremendous Step, What Greece’s Simitis wants from Turkey, Newsweek,
August 11, 1997, p. 38.
Interview: We have Done a Lot — New to the Job, Yilmaz has his own demands,
Newsweek, August 11, 1997, p. 39.
Court of Justice. Turkey contends that it is also an economic, political, and
strategic dispute, requiring a political settlement. Yet, Turkey has not
categorically rejected an appeal to the Court — again after bilateral
negotiations. In the past decade, expectations of oil or other mineral
discoveries in the continental shelf appear to have lowered, perhaps
diminishing the value of the dispute. As a result, the issue may be more
soluble, with both parties taking it to the Court after some preliminary talks
that would not be called a dialogue, a word connoting unacceptable
compromise and, therefore, anathema to some Greeks.
! With regard to the territorial sea, Madrid appeared to signal that it may be
allowed to be less of an issue. The modus vivendi involves Greece retaining
the right to 12-nautical-miles of sea, but continuing not to exercise the right.
As long as it does not exercise the right (unilateral move), Turkey will control
its rhetoric and stop threatening war.
! The airspace controversy is likely to linger as long as Greece claims air space
rights disconnected from territorial sea rights and interprets FIR in a sovereign
The prospects for a solution for all or any of the Aegean issues depend on the
governments in Athens and Ankara. The Simitis government is a stable, one-party
administration that probably will serve out its full four years. It is strongly motivated
and may persist in its outreach to Ankara for some time, weathering ups and downs
unless Turkish actions shut it out. Greece’s motivations mostly are externally driven,
and it needs to work on creating a solid domestic consensus for a foreign policy
shift toward Turkey. The Yilmaz coalition government was founded in part on a
promise to hold early elections. It has multiple political components and must reach
compromises among them. It may prove tempting for some politicians to exploit
foreign policy issues for domestic advantage or, as in the case of Ecevit, for
principles unleavened by pragmatism. Moreover, whether the government and its
anticipated successors will work with the foreign policy establishment on a
consistent, creative, and responsive approach to a different Greece is yet to be seen.
This context renders a positive outcome from present opportunities unpredictable.
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