ATHENS (Reuters) -Greek lawmakers ratified on Thursday a new defence agreement between Greece and France that will allow them to come to each other’s aid in the event of an external threat, but which has stirred further tensions with Turkey.
The strategic military and defence cooperation pact between the two NATO allies was clinched last month and includes an order for three French frigates worth about 3 billion euros. Athens had already ordered some 24 Dassault-made Rafale fighter jets this year.
The 300-seat parliament approved the agreement by 191 votes in favour and 109 against. The leftist opposition Syriza party voted against the accord.
“For the first time it is clearly stipulated that there be military assistance in the event of a third party attacking one of the two states,” Prime Minister Kyraikos Mitsotakis told lawmakers before the vote.
“And we all know who is threatening whom with a casus belli (cause for war) in the Mediterranean,” he added, in a clear reference to Turkey.
All NATO allies are required to come to the aid of a member state that suffers aggression, but the decades-old tensions between Athens and Ankara are complicated by the fact that Turkey is also a member of the Atlantic alliance.
Greece and Turkey are currently at odds over the extent of their continental shelves and their maritime boundaries, a fact that has hindered any expansion by Athens of its territorial waters to 12 miles (19 km) in the Aegean.
Turkey, which lies to Greece’s east, says such a move from Athens would be a casus belli. Some Greek islands lie less than 12 miles from Turkey’s western coast.
TURKEY’S REACTION TO THE PACT
The Athens-Paris pact angered Ankara, which said in a statement on Oct.1, that Greece’s “maximalist maritime jurisdiction area and national airspace claims” were in contravention of international law and that it would strengthen Turkey’s determination to protect its rights in the region.
“Greece’s policy of armament as well as isolation and alienation of Turkey, instead of cooperation, is a problematic policy, which will threaten regional peace and stability and undermine not only itself but also the EU, which Greece is a member of,” Turkish Foreign ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç said.
French officials have stressed the deal did not target Turkey and that it was fully in line with NATO.
“This is not an agreement that is directed against Turkey or anyone else, it is an agreement that is in line with our common goal, Greece and France, to strengthen European sovereignty, including in the Eastern Mediterranean, where we have crucial interests,” a French presidential official told reporters in a briefing on Sept. 28.
“So we would not understand if Turkey overreacts to an agreement that is not directed against them,” he said.
As well as the continental shelf issue, relations between Greece and Turkey have long been strained over other territorial issues in the Eastern Mediterranean, including air space, energy, the status of some Aegean islands, and the ethnically-split island of Cyprus.
The two countries re-launched exploratory contacts on their disputes earlier this year. Another round of bilateral discussions, which are informal, took place in Ankara on Oct. 6.
(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas, Michele Kambas and George GeorgiopoulosAdditional reporting by John Irish in ParisWriting by Michele KambasEditing by Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry)