The cancellation of two major exercises in the Aegean Sea was a purely military decision, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quoted as saying on Friday, apparently dismissing that it was linked to Turkish-Greek efforts to resolve their disputes in the Aegean.
Erdoğan, speaking to a group of journalists during an election campaign trip to the central Anatolian province of Aksaray on Thursday, said he had discussed the issue with Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner during a meeting earlier on Thursday.
“I asked him, our chief of General Staff. He said it really was his initiative,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying by the Zaman daily on Friday. “I told him that his convictions are very important in exercises like these. I told him that we as the civilian government cannot force the commanders to carry on the maneuvers," he also said, complaining that the issue has unnecessarily turned into a public "mystery."
On Thursday, a senior Turkish commander also insisted that the planned exercises were canceled for military reasons. “The exercises were canceled only for military reasons. There is no other reason,” Brig. Gen. Tayyar Süngü, head of the General Staff's department of communications, told reporters during a reception on Thursday evening marking the anniversary of independence of Azerbaijan in Ankara.
He did not elaborate on the military reasons.
The General Staff announced late on Tuesday in a brief statement on its website that the annual Efes (Ephesus) exercises, involving land, air and naval drills, and the Denizkurdu (Sea Wolf) maneuvers, held at sea every two years, have been canceled. The General Staff had organized a press tour for the maneuvers, scheduled to start on May 25.
In remarks that appeared to suggest that the government had no role in the cancelation decision, Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül said on Wednesday that the decision to scrap the drills was a result of internal deliberations within the General Staff.
NATO partners Turkey and Greece have held numerous so-called “exploratory talks” behind closed doors since 2002 in a bid to resolve the Aegean disputes, but no breakthrough has been reported so far, despite notable improvements in their ties over the past decade.