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Showdown in the Mediterranean – WSJ

The surface temperatures of the Aegean Sea may of course reach the 1980s, but this summer the region has reached a climax. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s confrontation with Greece over maritime claims could be resolved through diplomacy. The question is whether Mr. Erdogan wants to negotiate or simply assert Turkish power.

Territorial disputes around the Turkish coast and several neighboring Greek islands existed long before Erdogan took office, but the Turkish leader’s growing belligerence caused the latest round of tension. It unilaterally claims large portions of territory for Turkey and has escalated by sending exploration ships into the disputed territory with the support of the navy. Each side has legitimate claims, but Ankara justifies the bad behavior with nationalist rhetoric.

“They will either understand the language of politics and diplomacy, or on the ground with painful experiences,”

; Erdogan said Saturday. While leaders usually reserve such language for adversaries, Erdogan was threatening a NATO ally. The alliance hoped that relations between Greece and Turkey would improve when they joined in 1952, but the two have approached war three times since the 1970s. In recent years, tensions have worsened when gas was discovered in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey also has problems with Cyprus, which belongs to the European Union but not to NATO. Ankara invaded the island in 1974 and is the only country in the world to recognize Turkish-speaking Northern Cyprus as a state. The south wants to make deals with foreign energy companies, but Ankara is asking the north to get a share. Separately, Turkey wants economic rights in the waters that Cyprus considers its own.

Military conflict between Greece and Turkey remains an unlikely but real possibility. NATO has tried to organize talks but Greece says it will not participate until Turkey withdraws its military ships from disputed areas. These difficulties have caused Mr. Erdogan’s weekend tantrums, who see the struggle as more than uncertain reserves of energy.

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