NATO resolves Greek-Turkish tensions to conduct Aegean task

NATO chief announces that alliance agrees on plan to send their ships to patrol in Aegean Sea to help Turkey and Greece to prevent illegal networks smuggling refugees into Europe, resolving Turkish-Greek tension

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

A Turkish Coast Guard fast rigid-hulled inflatable boat tow refugees in a dinghy in Turkish territorial waters of the north Aegean Sea, following a failed attempt of crossing to the Greek island of Lesbos, off the shores western Turkey on Nov. 9, 2015.

NATO allies have agreed to a plan for their ships in the Aegean Sea to help Turkey and Greece counter criminal networks smuggling refugees into Europe, NATO's chief said on Thursday, overcoming territorial sensitivities between Greece and Turkey.

After late night talks in Brussels, NATO envoys set out how ships sent to the Aegean in early February can work with Turkish and Greek coastguards and the European Union border agency Frontex to rescue refugees at sea and return them to Turkey.

"In case of rescue of persons coming via Turkey, they will be taken back to Turkey," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement following the agreement.

“NATO’s task is not to turn back the boats,” Stoltenberg said indicating that NATO will "provide critical information to enable the Greek and Turkish coastguards, as well as Frontex, to do their job even more effectively.”

"Greek and Turkish forces will not operate in each other's territorial waters and airspace," Stoltenberg added.

Relations between Greece and Turkey have traditionally been tense and since the Feb. 11 deal by NATO defence ministers to deploy ships to the Aegean, Greece's defence minister has accused Turkey of trying to undermine the deal.

NATO diplomats said one of the issues was where Greek and Turkish ships should patrol and whether that would set a precedent for claims over disputed territorial waters.

Stoltenberg informed that other NATO vessels will be able to sail in the territorial waters of Greece and Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has also confirmed the newly agreed NATO plan in remarks during a press meeting in Ankara on Thursday. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sought the NATO mission to help tackle Europe's worst refugee challenge since World War II. More than a million asylum-seekers arrived last year.

The European Union is relying on Turkey to help stem the flows of Syrians fleeing civil war, giving Ankara 3 billion euros to set up camps and help take in more refugees, although progress in implementing the deal has been slow.

Germany hopes that unlike the EU's mission off the Italian coast, which brings rescued refugees to Europe's shores, NATO will return refugees to Turkey even if they are picked up in Greek waters, effectively sealing the border.

TRTWorld, Reuters