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Alberto Costa, MP for South Leicestershire, chairman of Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Greece, made his remarks at a time of heightened tension between Turkey and neighbour Greece over Mr Erdogan’s decision to send a research vessel, the Oruc Reis, to undertake a seismic survey close to the Greek island of Megitsi. Pictures last week showed the vessel being escorted by ships from the Turkish navy, triggering concern within the international community, and prompting Mr Costa to add his name to a letter published in The Times on Monday voicing concern at what it described as Mr Erdogan’s “escalation of rhetoric and threat”.
And he warned a cocktail of anger and nationalism “can easily lead to consequences which no party should seek or want”.
Mr Costa told Express.co.uk: “Turkey and Greece are both thankfully NATO allies and we want to ensure that NATO allies work together in the best interests of the NATO alliance.
“And at a time when there has been, across the world, a rise in nationalism from different quarters, we want to ensure that NATO allies always remember the importance of minimising any potential disputes among NATO member states.
“Turkey and Greece have a longstanding series of issues some of which involve territorial waters and the extent of territorial limits.”
Mr Costa explained: “The reason I put my name to that particular letter is that it really emphasises the importance of member states adhering to the international rules-based system.
Sending an exploratory ship for exploring the existence of hydrocarbons surrounded by frigates is not very diplomatic and very much sends a visual message
Alberto Costa MP
“We have had a number of instances over the years where we have seen countries acting outside accepted international rules and what we are seeing with Turkey is potentially a breach.
“What we don’t want is provocation by one side or another. If Turkey has a real issue with Greece in this matter, the best place to raise that issue is through dialogue, and not through provocative acts.”
He added: “Sending an exploratory ship for exploring the existence of hydrocarbons surrounded by frigates is not very diplomatic and very much sends a visual message.
“That’s unacceptable. The United Kingdom must be seen to be a country that takes a very firm stance on observing the international rules-based system.”
Without such an international rules-based system – a concept which has only really existed since the end of World War 2 – there would be “chaos in the international sphere”, Mr Costa warned.
He said: “If Turkey and Greece have an issue with each other, and whether it is directly related to the exploration of hydrocarbons or other matters, it is vital that these issues are properly dealt with diplomacy and not through provocative acts.
“I’ve come to the conclusion the exploration of mineral rights in disputed parts of the eastern Mediterranean is a provocative act, an unwelcome act, it’s not the sort of act that we want to see Turkey do.
“It’s important that Mr Erdogan and his country acts within the rules-based system.”
In a speech earlier this week in Ankara, Mr Erdogan pointed out the proximity of Megitsi, also known as Kastellorizo, to the Turkish mainland – but Mr Costa suggested the President’s argument once again sidestepped the concept of an international rules-based system.
He said: “If the dispute is about ownership of land that is a quite different from exploring hydrocarbons.
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“If you have an issue with territorial rights, get that issue resolved first.
“If you have a dispute affecting the territorial extent to which a state can exercise its rights then appropriate international bodies exist to raise that dialogue.
“Erdogan has not done that. Greece is a country not just made up of a peninsula, a mainland, it is made up of hundreds of islands extending in different parts of the Mediterranean.”
Mr Costa said he had just returned from the Greek island of Rhodes, and had observed an increase in the number of patrol vessels sailing in the narrow channel which separates it from the Turkish mainland.
He added: “If Turkey is simply saying that they have the right to extend their explorations beyond a certain amount of mileage from the mainland, then argue that case in the appropriate international forum.
“Don’t just send a ship surrounded by frigates as a provocative act against a friendly NATO member.
“That doesn’t achieve anything – it just creates anger, and anger in these situations, particularly when there is a heavy dose of political nationalism, can easily lead to consequences which no party should seek or want.”
With reference to past disputes including Turkey’s invasion of northern Cyprus 46 years ago, Mr Costa said: “I’m not going to make the link with what happened in Cyprus in 1974 – I don’t want to put fuel on to a potential fire.
“All I am saying is at this stage we need to resolve any dispute through dialogue and international law.
“The rule of law is sacrosanct. When you send a ship into an area which is within the territorial waters of another country, and surround the ship with frigates, that to any reasonable observing individual is a provocative act.
“That should not be done and I would urge Turkey and its government, not its people, its government, to observe international law.”
NATO also had a key role to play he stressed, being a “supranational body within which member states can raise issues of concern”.
In addition, he added, when it came to finding a diplomatic solution, the UK had both a big stake in the situation and an opportunity to make a difference.
Mr Costa explained: “Britain has a major strategic role in this issue. Britain has its own military interests in that area.
“There is a major British base at Akrotiri in southern Cyprus so it is very much an area that Britain has a direct strategic interest in.
“And it is not just a strategic interest. Britain has also got a commercial interest.
“We export and import services from both Greece and Turkey. What is in nobody’s interests is these countries to provoke one another through this sort of act, which Turkey has done.”
The letter was also signed by among others, John Kittmer, former British Ambassador to Greece.
In reference to Mr Erdogan’s point about the closeness of Megitsi to the Turkish mainland, he told Express.co.uk: “This is a curious remark.
“The Greek islands in the East of the Aegean are Greek sovereign territory.
“It makes no sense to contrast their proximity to the Turkish mainland with ‘their distance from Greece’.
“They are not ‘distant from Greece’: they are Greece, and are internationally recognised as such.”
International law, including the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), had established a framework of rights in respect of both island and mainland territories, he said, pointing out the argument made no more sense than suggesting the Shetland Islands were distant from the UK.
He added: “Turkish access to the sea is not at question. Like every continental and island power Turkey has rights, governed by the law of the sea, to its own territorial waters around its coastline.
“What Turkey disputes is the similar rights of Greek islands. But those rights too derive from customary international law, from UNCLOS – for example, the right to a continental shelf, maritime waters, etc.”
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