Greece calls new Turkish survey mission a threat to region
ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Greece accused neighboring Turkey of undermining efforts to alleviate a drilling rights crisis in the eastern Mediterranean on Monday after Ankara opened a survey vessel for new energy exploration in controversial waters - including an area near one remote Greek island - newly established.
The move sparked tensions over the maritime borders between the Greek islands, Cyprus and Turkey's south coast, which flared up in the summer and led to military build-up, bellicose rhetoric and fears of a confrontation between the two NATO members and historical regional rivals.
The Turkish search ship Oruc Reis left the port of Antalya on Monday for a mission that ended on October 22nd.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the ship was continuing its "planned and planned activities", adding that the Turkish Navy would provide "support and protection" if necessary.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis discussed the developments on the phone with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and said he would bring them up at the next Council meeting from October 15-16.
"This new unilateral act is a serious escalation on the part of Turkey," a government statement quoted by Mitsotaki.
Turkey said Greek objections were "unacceptable" and insisted that the research vessel operate on the Turkish continental shelf - in an area just 15 kilometers from the Turkish coast and 425 kilometers from mainland Greece.
Turkey announced last month that it would be pulling the oruc rice ashore for maintenance and supply and said the move would "give diplomacy a chance".
“We expect Greece to withdraw its maximalist claims contrary to international law ... to end its exercises and military activities, which are increasing tensions in the Aegean and the Mediterranean, and to open a sincere dialogue with us. Said the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
Fahrettin Altun, an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, tweeted while Ankara was in favor of the dialogue that "there can be no negotiations when you say," What is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable. "
Turkey is threatened with sanctions from the European Union, which include both Greece and Cyprus - an island republic from which Turkey has sent drilling ships.
Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency and mediated between Ankara and Athens, will fly to Cyprus and Greece for talks on Tuesday.
On Monday the German government said it had "taken note" of Turkey's energy prospecting announcement.
"If explorations really took place in this controversial sea area, this would be a very regrettable and, from our point of view, unwise step," said Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, to reporters in Berlin. "It would take back efforts to ease tension ... and it would certainly be far from conducive to the further development of EU-Turkey relations."
Seibert reaffirmed Germany's insistence: “It is important and necessary that all those involved try to prevent escalations and resolve their differences ... - including the differences in maritime law - as quickly as possible, in dialogue and on an international legal basis. "
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said he had informed his EU colleagues about the planned "illegal actions" by Turkey on the Greek continental shelf south of Kastellorizo, a Greek island off the southern coast of Turkey.
“I explained the obvious, who is the common denominator in all problematic situations in the region: Nagorno-Karabakh, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Cyprus, the southeastern Mediterranean. The common denominator is Turkey, ”said Dendias, referring to regional hot spots where Ankara has a military presence or is actively involved in diplomacy. "Turkey is undermining peace and stability in the region."
France, which held joint military exercises with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean during the summer and plans to sell fighter jets to Athens, expressed "concern" about the new Turkish mission.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes Von Der Muhll said the EU had "clearly urged Turkey to refrain from unilateral measures that are contrary to the interests of the European Union and which violate international law and the sovereign rights of EU member states".
"We expect Turkey to honor its commitments, to refrain from new provocations and to give concrete guarantees of its desire to speak in good faith," she added.
Ankara and Athens agreed earlier this month, under the auspices of NATO, to put in place a system to prevent potential military conflicts and accidents, including a hotline. The two countries had also agreed to resume the so-called exploratory talks to build trust and resolve disputes that were last seen in 2016.
On Sunday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry accused Greece of "dishonesty" for continuing to take measures to create tension and agreed to enter into dialogue. In a ministry statement, Greece was accused of holding military exercises in the Aegean Sea on the occasion of Turkey's national day celebrations on October 29. Turkey returned the favor by declaring exercises on October 28, a Greek national holiday.
Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.
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