By Nikos Kotzias*
The exploratory consultations between Greece and Turkey are not just some talks taking place without a purpose. They constitute a structured dialogue in which both sides are investing a series of goals. As for the exploratory talks, the constant goal on behalf of Greece was that (a) the issue under consideration is the EEZ and the Continental Shelf and that (b) if no agreement is reached, the matter will be referred to an International Court of Justice, preferably that of The Hague. Consequently, the numerous politicians seeking to downplay the role and importance of the exploratory talks should probably refocus on the diplomacy goals, unless they are concealing other goals than those mentioned above; retreats, perhaps, and pressures against the Republic of Cyprus.
The aim is to reach an agreement on these issues with Turkey. I cannot see how this is possible today, unless concessions without principles occur. Of course, on the other hand, the country must try to succeed in the exploratory talks by setting conditions, drawing red lines and by providing correct information to the international community. If exploratory talks continue, and for as long as they do, the aim must be to have fundamental strategies in place in a timely manner. The first and foremost goal must be, in this context and under the current circumstances, for Turkey to be forced to accede to and sign international Maritime Law. Because, on what basis could we hold any serious conversation without an agreement between the two parties regarding the role of the Law of the Sea?
Part of the agreement with Turkey should be that, if the process of forming a joint referral of the issue to the International Court of Justice is set in motion, parallelly with the process of figuring out the joint referral, a second goal must be set: the removal of the casus belli in the Turkish National Assembly. Its existence is not only provocative, but through the referral it becomes obsolete even for this very Turkish argument.
Extreme caution is required in order for the government to avoid repeating one of its mistakes in the maritime zones: losing sight of the rational and legal order of things. It is recalled that, if one chooses the path of the joint referral with the other side and appeals to an International Court of Justice, it follows that they will not be entitled to extend their territorial sea as provided by the rights registered in International Law. The danger lies in the fact that the court shall take into account the distribution of the EEZ between the two sides and the potentially Greek coastal zones from 6 to 12 miles, including the bays. Therefore, the third goal must be the timely preparation of the maritime zones that grant sovereignty over the “non-dry land” and for the required Presidential Decrees to be introduced at the right time. Due diligence is required in preparing the maps to support the EEZ and continental shelf proposal in the event they are submitted to the International Court of Justice, as the court will receive similar maps from Turkey in which the Turkish EEZ will illegally be depicted to include territories currently regarded as gray areas.
Proper preparation for the recognition of International Law by Turkey, the removal of the Casus Belli and the maps, alongside a proper use of International Law facilitate the solution under investigation. At the same time, these three elements represent powerful weapons in every phase, in case the exploratory talks fail to yield results and a “blame game” ensues.
Great importance, goal number four, lies in the preparation of Greece in view of the exploratory talks. This requires:
(a) That Greece shows seriousness. Diplomacy cannot continue to operate as a governmental PR stunt in which every point from such a negotiation is paraded in public view. Never in the previous 60 rounds has such a show been put up that objectively contradicts the prerequisite to approach diplomacy as a highly serious matter, that is, with sobriety and patience. The government must stop consuming itself with communication games and focus on the substance. The only explanation for this communication obsession is that they seek to disorient and obscure possible retreats.
(b) That the Greek government, possibly for reasons of insecurity and a hidden agenda, does not allow Turkey to practice international propaganda. It is simply unacceptable to fail to respond even to Cavusoglu’s statement on 12.1.2021, according to which Greece was forced to engage in exploratory talks under German pressure; or to provide no explanation to the international community on the Turkish revisions-provocations regarding the gray areas or on the disarmament of its islands, despite the occupation of Cyprus and the provocations in Imia. Turkey has no authority to pose such a demand, both because it was not included in the 1946 Paris Agreement and because, following the Montreux Treaty amendments, it has no legal basis to posit such a claim. The Greek government must explain all this with patience and tenacity; moreover, it should explain that each international agreement is preceded by International Defense Law.
(c) That the country enters the exploratory talks well prepared. There are dozens of studies in the Ministry on their subject conducted by highly qualified domestic and foreign scholars. They should be put to use. There is also a need for Greek views to be presented more systematically and in a better way in the international scientific press and to make better use of the publications studied by judges and their collaborators.
(d) That the country does not head to a meeting with a smaller delegation than that of Turkey. Equality in negotiations must be absolute in all areas. Additionally, it leaves a bad impression when the Greek delegation, for the first time after 60 meetings, fails to include even one single expert in international law or that a member of the delegation is an inexperienced person who is not really cognizant of the subject of the exploratory talks and the Greek-Turkish relations.
(e) Finally, the fact that there is a latent agenda comprising concessions does not mean that its body does not have clear political choices; nor that they themselves must explain their pursuits in order for one to comprehend them./ibna
* Nikos Kotzias is an Emeritus Professor of International Relations-Foreign Policy, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Member of the PRATTO Movement and author.