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State Dept. to Pentagon : Imia is Greek

By John Sitilides1 <>

18 June 1997

The Department of Defense, under the auspices of the mapping agency which services national policy planners, the military forces and the intelligence community, has been urged by the State Department to recognize the Aegean islets of Imia as Greek.

On October 6, 1996, the Pentagon's National Imaging and Mapping Agency [NIMA] published its updated map of the Imia region. The rocky islets are labeled "Vrakhoi Imia" [the Imia rocks], under the sovereignty of Greece. There is no reference to the Turkish name "Kardak," nor to any claims of Turkish sovereignty over the islets, which triggered a military crisis between the two NATO allies early last year.

In the midst of that crisis, Pentagon maps rescinding U.S. recognition of Greek sovereignty over Imia generated controversial speculation over American policies and intentions in the region. New information made available in discussions with the Western Policy Center represent a more comprehensive explanation of events leading to the mapping change.

The recognition issue over such a small territory - the State Department building is larger -- would normally receive scant attention were Imia not the focal point of increasing Turkish challenges to Greek sovereignty over airspace, waters, and territory in the Aegean Sea. In January, 1996, after Turkey claimed Imia as its own, fully armed and abutting Greek and Turkish naval forces maneuvered in the region in preparation for a shooting war. President Clinton's personal intervention was required to successfully disengage the NATO allies' advanced forces to status quo ante.

Over the years, revised and updated maps remained unchanged on the question of sovereignty over Imia and other islands and islets in the Aegean Sea. In this particular case, the timing of the map's publication, and the inadvertent signals which resulted, could not have been worse. A NIMA spokeswoman recently spoke with the Western Policy Center on several occasions to illuminate the matter.

The label "Sovereignty undetermined" was "inappropriately" applied to Imia after "there appeared to be uncertainty" over the issue, the spokeswoman said. That uncertainty surfaced during July and August of 1995, when hard-copy Greek and Turkish maps and charts were gathered and reviewed to support the previously scheduled, routine revision of the region's maps.

Though NIMA's standard revision process includes consultation with the State Department in matters of sovereignty depiction, including where borders are drawn and which names are used, an agency analyst conducting the revision failed to conduct such consultation before concluding that the sovereignty of Imia was 'undetermined.'

New information provided to the Center confirms that, after the January 1996 map was published, the State Department advised the agency "to depict the island Imia as Greek on all future [NIMA] products." The spokeswoman emphasized that the mapping agency has "adhered to the State Department's guidance in the depiction of Imia," adding that "since the island is considered Greek, NIMA products carry the Greek name standardized in accordance with the policies of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names."

A Defense Department official, speaking on background, described a "massive hunt" at NIMA after the Imia crisis erupted. The official stated that the State Department, in conjunction with the Defense Department and the National Security Council, sought to determine the source of information which resulted in the inaccurate classification. The official confirmed that staff additions at the time led to the agency's error, emphasizing that the revised Imia label "was never a conscious decision" at the Pentagon.

However, despite the corrective mapping action, undertaken at the strong urging of the State Department, the official U.S. position remains unclear. Official U.S. maps reflect just one aspect of American recognition of sovereignty. Since the Imia crisis, the State Department has repeatedly referred to the islet as Imia/Kardak, in acknowledgment of Turkey's outstanding territorial claim. The department itself has emphasized that, while NIMA maps serve to inform military and intelligence planners of international borders in a given region, they do not represent the final U.S. position on specific sovereignty matters.

For decades, stated U.S. recognition of sovereignty and territorial integrity in the Aegean Sea had been constant. Turkey had previously acknowledged that it retained sovereignty over those islands and coastal waters within three miles of its Aegean coastline, under the framework of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. Ankara currently maintains that the treaty serves as a "guideline" for relations between Greece and Turkey.

In January 1932, Turkey reaffirmed the sovereignty issue in a treaty with Italy, which then controlled Kastellorizo and the Dodecanese Islands. Article Four of the treaty reads: "It is clearly understood that all the islands and the islets and rocks on both sides of the line of demarcation of the waters laid down in the present [1932] Convention, whether their names are mentioned therein or not, shall belong to the State under whose sovereignty the zone in which the said islands and islets and rocks are situated is placed." Furthermore, in the December 1932 protocol annexed to the treaty, Imia was cited as the Italian territory for the purposes of delimiting a median line equidistant from the Turkish island of Cavus Ada.

Turkey asserts that the January 1932 treaty was never registered with the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, and is therefore not binding. Greece insists that Ankara is referring to the protocol, which did not require such registration.

In 1947, Greece was rewarded for fighting with the U.S. and the victorious allies during World War Two, with full possession of the Dodecanese Islands and all proximate islets and rocks from Italy, in accordance with the Paris Peace Treaty. Turkey had remained neutral against Nazi forces until the war's final days.

Ankara also maintains that Greece attempted to validate its sovereignty in the early 1950s, pointing to uncertainty regarding the legality of its position. Athens contends that Turkey had consistently recognized the previous delimitation of the Aegean Sea, and did so again in accepting the 1950 International Civil Aviation Organization [ICAO] map, and in publishing the Turkish Foreign Ministry's 1953 map on navigation through the Turkish straits.

Therefore, through most of the twentieth century, the question of sovereignty - and lack thereof - in the Aegean Sea seemed to have been legally resolved and unchallenged. In producing maps and imagery data for the Defense Department, the Defense Mapping Agency, now NIMA, long recognized Greek sovereignty over Imia without equivocation.

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency was established on October 1, 1996 to incorporate the Defense Mapping Agency with the Pentagon's Central Imagery Office, the Defense Dissemination Program Office, and the CIA's National Photographic Interpretation Center. The agency's missions also involves imagery exploitation, dissemination, and processing elements of the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, and Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office.

Described as the Pentagon's "newest combat support agency," NIMA has a global mission and unique responsibilities to manage and provide imagery and geospatial information to national policy makers and military forces in support of national security objectives. Under its stated authority and global mission, NIMA is also recognized as part of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

The Western Policy Center (916-383-7000) is a public policy corporation monitoring U.S. strategic interests in southeastern Europe. The author is a government relations specialist, and formerly served as an Executive Assistant to U.S. Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-NY).