200. Telegram From the Embassy in Turkey to the Department of State1

1964. Subject: Greek-Turkish Dispute over Aegean. Refs: a) Athens2 b) [document number not declassified].3

Begin summary: Following are our views of the Turkish attitudes in the Greek-Turkish dispute over the Aegean. Although it is challenging the Greek position, Turkey’s official position is ostensibly conciliatory; the Turks say they want a bilateral agreement to delineate the continental shelf (probably on principle of equidistance), thus disposing of related issues. At present it appears doubtful that active Turkish or Turk-contracted oil exploration or drilling activities will take place in the disputed areas in the near future, but other steps cannot be ruled out. An always present danger is that Turkish emotions could be ignited by irresponsible press play of the dispute, as well as by Greek sabre-rattling. End summary.

By septel4 we are reporting results our latest discussions with Turk officials in the dispute between Greece and Turkey over the Aegean continental shelf demarcation issue as well as the oil exploration problem. Our info indicates that the Aegean issues have high level military and civilian attention, including that of Pres Koruturk himself, a former fleet commander.
An authoritative MFA official (Soylemez, head of International Organizations Dept) indicated to us that the Turks were well aware of what he described as longstanding Greek aspirations to extend their territorial sea limits to twelve miles; however, according to this official, the Turks at present doubt that the Greeks would take such action in near future.
The official Turkish posture, as disclosed to us by this MFA official, is that a bilateral agreement between the two govts should be negotiated ASAP on the division of the continental shelf, which would thus also dispose of the oil exploration issue. Turks would prefer a division taking into account so-called special circumstances (proximity [Page 661] of Greek islands to Turk mainland) but would fall back to principle of equidistance (or median line).
Turk MFA official also claimed the Turkish position was one of moderation. Turks were prepared to compromise and did not object in principle to sharing resources of whole of Aegean. No polemical comments have yet been uttered to us directly, although General Sancar came close (Ankara 1472).5 Still, there is no denying the fact that the Turkish action in opening up disputed areas to oil exploration was in effect a challenge to the Greek position.
A high official of the Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources has also confirmed to us that at present the GOT is not physically involved in any type of exploratory activity in the disputed areas nor is any Turkish-contracted firm engaged in such activity. It is a fact, however, regularly repeated to us, that the Turks want to interest American and foreign companies in exploration activities.
In a TV interview on March 13, FonMin Gunes took a fairly even-handed approach to problem but insisted there must not be a Greek wall stopping Turk access to the Aegean. He said Turkey claimed the continental shelf up to a depth of two hundred meters, in accord with the latest concepts in international law.
Our view is that the ostensibly moderate position of the GOT at present could easily change, depending on Greek moves and on the actions of the frequently irresponsible Turkish press. Among other factors contributing to historic Turkish suspicions and dislike of Greece is the fear that the Greeks want to make of the Aegean a Greek lake, to further the old “megali” idea.6 In addition, many Turks who in other respects accept most of Ataturk’s dictums still believe that Turkey got a raw deal in allowing Greece to obtain unimpeded sovereignty over a chain of islands nestling against the Turkish mainland. It also must be taken into account that although this govt, like all recent govts, appears committed to achieving a good relationship with Greece, it is probably the most nationalistic in spirit of any Turkish Govt since 1965.
Our interim judgment is that we are not likely to see in the near future some oil exploration or drilling activity in the disputed areas. The Turks first will want to determine whether the Greeks are willing to negotiate a bilateral agreement. (One Turk newspaper on March 14, citing news agency sources in Athens, claimed that Athens was prepared to negotiate a bilateral agreement.) If progress is not made, however, we would not be surprised to see the Turks step up the nature of their challenge to the Greek position by, for example, flying special military [Page 662] air sorties over the Aegean, as they did in the days leading up to the 1967 Cyprus crisis. (Department may want to review the records as regards that period, since the Emb files are no longer available.)
In our opinion, Turkish attitude so far does not warrant a formal démarche counseling moderation, although I am prepared to do so if our monitoring of the issue suggests that Turk tempers are rising.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 634, Country Files, Middle East, Turkey, Vol. IV. Secret; Exdis. Repeated to Athens.
  2. Dated March 13. (Ibid., Box 594, Country Files, Middle East, Greece, Vol. IV)
  3. Not found.
  4. Telegram 1974 from Ankara, March 18, reiterated the Turkish belief that a bilateral agreement regarding the division of the continental shelf and related issues should and could be negotiated as soon as possible. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1974)
  5. Dated February 27. (Ibid.)
  6. A concept in Greek political thought for uniting with Greece proper all territories in which a large number of Greeks lived.