Amidst an escalation of tension by Ankara in the Aegean and heightened tensions between Ankara and Washington over Turkey’s Syria operations, the US State Department revisited its policy of equal distances regarding Greek-Turkish disputes.

Noting that Turkey and Greece have longstanding diplomatic channels for addressing Aegean issues, the State Department encouraged both sides to take steps that will de-escalate the situation, adding that as a matter of principle, the US supports the sovereignty of countries in the region including Greece and Turkey.

The admonition came even as Ankara’s incursions in Afrin, Syria have heighted US-Turkey tensions, with Turkey adopting bellicose rhetoric even towards Washington.

Indicative of the diplomatic tightrope on which Washington must tread was a question to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, at a press briefing yesterday, about Turkish anti-American rhetoric and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement that those who claim they will use force against Turkey “clearly have never experienced the Ottoman slap”.

While laughing off the Ottoman slap, Nauert replied, “I think we’re used to that kind of rhetoric, whether it’s from the Turkish Government or from other governments, and so that’s why we don’t get too riled up about that.”

Though US Ambassador to Athens Geoffrey Pyatt intimated in a recent interview that the US would support Greek sovereign rights in the event of an Aegean hot clash, the plethora of Turkish violations of Greek airspace and territorial waters, increasingly dangerous in nature, and Washington’s own troubles with Syria, make it impossible to predict what Washington’s response would be in the event of a hot clash in the Aegean.

Just hours after a Turkish Coast Guard ship rammed a Greek Coast guard ship off of the Imia islets, Ankara issued a NAVTEX tying up a sea area around the Greek island of Kastelorizo, in order to carry out a search-and-rescue operation.

That was accompanied by a barrage of 52 Turkish violations of Greek airspace in the northeastern, central, and southeastern Aegean.

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