A meeting between the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey, on which hopes were pinned for the start of a dialogue to resolve Aegean Sea territorial disputes, has been called off by Athens after Turkish military jets reportedly intruded into Greek airspace during an exercise.
The cancellation apparently marks the end of a shaky four-month detente in the Aegean between the two NATO neighbors.
The circumstances leading to it are expected to add an extra edge of militancy to criticism of Turkey that diplomatic sources said Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou intends to deliver at a meeting of the NATO Defense Planning Committee in Brussels next week.
The Greek government announced it was calling off the meeting between Foreign Minister Ioannis Charalambopoulos and his Turkish counterpart Ilter Turkmen late last night, on the grounds that it could "neither take place nor be productive under the existing conditions."
The two men were to have held talks during a forthcoming NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Dec. 9. They were to have continued discussions begun in Ottawa this summer, on the "framework" for a dialogue to resolve disputes in the Aegean. These include the sharing of airspace operational control rights and continental shelf issues.
The Charalambopoulos-Turkmen contacts resulted from a moratorium on any action that could be considered provocative, undertaken by the two countries in July, apparently with the active encouragement of NATO allies such as the United States and West Germany. The Papandreou government had originally suspended a dialogue initiated by the previous conservative administration, to resolve Greek-Turkish disputes.
The moratorium proved fragile as reports of Turkish violations of Greek airspace continued. Tension levels were also kept high by statements such as one by Papandreou recently accusing Turkey of manufacturing a nuclear bomb with Pakistan.
The situation deteriorated further in mid-November when Greece called off a NATO exercise labeled Apex Express 82 scheduled to be held in the northern part of the country, on the grounds that it did not include the disputed Aegean island of Limnos.
Greece maintained that this exclusion amounted to a tacit acceptance of Turkish arguments that Limnos should be demilitarized. The present Turkish naval and air exercise, Coral 82, during which the alleged incident occurred that led to the cancellation of the foreign ministers' talks, has been taking place in the north Aegean close to Limnos.
Greece sees it as a provocation, and Papandreou had resolved to raise the Limnos issue, and that of Greek-Turkish relations, at the forthcoming NATO defense planning committee meeting.