Sun, 28 Feb 2021

ATHENS, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- Greek parliament approved on Wednesday a draft bill on the extension of Greece's territorial waters from the current 6 nautical miles to 12 nautical miles along its western coastline in the Ionian Sea.

The law passed with 284 votes in favor in the 300-member assembly, Greek national news agency AMNA reported.

It is the first time since 1947 that Greece will be expanding its sovereign territory, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, addressing the plenary shortly before the vote. He added that Greece is exercising its rights under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

"It is a right fully compatible with international law and Greece can obviously also exercise it in other regions, like around Crete, but at a time, in a manner and under the conditions of its own choosing," Mitsotakis stressed.

Turkey has repeatedly warned against such a step by Greece in the Aegean Sea, as the two neighboring countries have been arguing for decades over maritime borders and other issues.

The expansion in the Ionian Sea came after Greece's agreements with Italy and Egypt last year over the delimitation of maritime borders in the Mediterranean. Greece also agreed with Albania to jointly go to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to delimit their exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

The prime minister said on Wednesday that in the same spirit Greece and Turkey can also resolve their differences in the context of international law.

Next week, dialogue between the two sides will resume in Istanbul aiming to resolve these issues. The previous round ended in 2016.

Athens limits the discussion to the demarcation of maritime zones in the Aegean and the Mediterranean, while Ankara raises more topics.

"We are entering the exploratory talks which will start on Jan. 25 with optimism, confidence and hopes," Mitsotakis said.

"However, I stress that there will be no discussion on issues concerning national sovereignty and the rights of the country. We will obviously not accept any questioning of international treaties and rules of international law. That is why we have said many times that if we fail to agree, then we must be prepared to agree on how to refer our dispute to the international courts," he added.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said "The extension of territorial waters in the Ionian Sea by Greece to 12 nautical miles ... does not affect the Aegean Sea in any way."

"Turkey has vital rights and interests in the semi-enclosed Aegean Sea, where special geographical circumstances prevail. Turkey's position that the territorial waters in the Aegean Sea should not be unilaterally extended in a way to restrict the freedom of navigation as well as the access to the high seas of both Turkey and third countries, is well-known by all parties," it added.

Tension between the two sides escalated in the region during 2020 over seismic surveys conducted by Turkish vessels in disputed waters, as well as agreements for delimitation of maritime borders Turkey and Greece reached with other countries in the Mediterranean.

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