After vote, Greece to double reach of western coastal waters

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Lawmakers in Greece Wednesday overwhelmingly approved legislation to extend the country's territorial waters along its western coastline from six to 12 nautical miles.

In the 284-0 vote, representatives of four opposition parties backed the center-right government, while members of the Greek Communist Party abstained.

Although the move does not directly affect an ongoing maritime boundary dispute with Turkey to the east, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament that Greece was adopting a more assertive foreign policy.

“It's a clear message to those who are trying to deprive our country of this right,” Mitsotakis said.

Greece’s western coastline faces Italy and borders Albania at its northern tip. But the expansion is aimed at underscoring the country’s right to implement the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which set the 12-mile limit in 1982.

Greece and Turkey, neighbors and NATO allies, are at odds over sea boundaries and mineral rights in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean in a dispute that caused a tense military standoff last year.

Under pressure from western allies, Turkey and Greece will resume talks aimed at reducing tensions on Jan. 25, restarting a process that was suspended five years ago.

Turkey says an extension of Greece’s territorial waters eastward would be considered an act of war, arguing that Greek islands would effectively block its access to the Aegean. The longstanding dispute between the two countries has been fueled by the discovery of large offshore gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean in recent years.

Ankara noted that the legislation passed Wednesday does not affect the Aegean, but warned that there was no change to its position regarding the extension of territorial waters there.

“Our country has vital rights and interests in the semi-enclosed Aegean Sea, which is dominated by special geographical conditions,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a written statement.

”Our position that the territorial waters of this sea cannot be expanded unilaterally in a way that restricts the freedom of navigation and access to the open seas of our country and of third countries, is known to all," he added. "There is no change to our position.”

Greece has signed recent agreements with Italy and Egypt for the delineation of maritime exploration rights and is in talks with Albania to take a maritime boundary dispute to an international court.