U.S. rebuffs complaint by Greece to NATO on Turkey

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The United States has refused to support Greece's efforts to recruit the international community to stem increasing military tension with Turkey.

U.S. officials said the Bush administration has decided not to focus international attention on the Greek-Turkish military confrontation in the Aegean Sea. Greece has complained of increasingly aggressive behavior of Turkish combat jets in the Aegean that has led to the highest level of military tension since 1999.

The administration rejected an effort by Athens to involve NATO in the dispute over Aegean air space. Athens has accused Turkey of repeatedly violating Greek air space during Turkish air exercises.

"It is not a NATO issue," State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said. "It is a bilateral issue between two NATO member countries."

Officials said the administration refused to exploit the frosty relations between Ankara and Washington in wake of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The Defense Department is said to have suspended its dialogue with Ankara because it refused to allow U.S. troops to enter Turkey to form a northern front in the war against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

At a briefing on Tuesday, Reeker made it clear that the United States would not take sides in the Greek-Turkish air space dispute. Turkey has never recognized Greece's claim of a 16 kilometer air space corridor from its islands in the Aegean.

Instead, Reeker cited a denial by Turkey's military that its F-16 fighter-jets buzzed a Greek commercial jet. He said the issue must be resolved by Ankara and Athens, whom he described as "good allies" of the United States.

"We certainly are encouraged that Greece and Turkey have continued their rapprochement talks and are undertaking confidence-building measures such as the recent agreements to exchange senior military staff officers and students and other cooperation," Reeker said. "So that's a process that I think is important.

It's a bilateral issue between those two countries."

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