Turkey restarts hunt for Mediterranean gas, reigniting Greek row
Turkey is due to move the research vessel to the eastern Mediterranean at the center of an energy conflict with Greece on Monday, a decision Athens describes as a "direct threat to peace".
In the dispute over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, the two NATO countries carried out rival military exercises in strategic waters between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete in August.
Greece claims rights to the waters around its Kastellorizo island, but Turkey says the longer coastline makes the area a legitimate area for its ships to explore.
The Turkish Navy said the ship Oruc Reis will conduct activities in the region, including the south of Kastellorizo, until October 22. This was sent to the NAVTEX marine alert system late on Sunday.
The ship will participate in the recent Seismic Survey mission by two other ships named Ataman and Cengiz Han, the message said.
The Turkish energy minister Fatih Donmez sent on Twitter on Monday that Turkey "will continue to seek, dig and protect our rights".
"If there is (natural gas) we will absolutely find it," he said.
However, the Greek Foreign Ministry on Monday described the move as "a direct threat to regional peace and security" and accused Turkey of being unreliable.
The ministry added in a statement that Ankara did not "sincerely want" the dialogue.
Ankara first deployed the Oruc rice and warships in disputed waters on August 10, extending the mission, ignoring repeated calls from Greece and the European Union.
- threat of sanctions -
The oruc rice was pulled ashore last month in what many hoped would be a sign that the two sides could resolve the problem through dialogue.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the time that the withdrawal was designed to give diplomacy a chance.
However, Turkish officials also insisted that the ship was in port for scheduled maintenance and would return to the Eastern Mediterranean to continue its work.
In his tweet on Monday, Donmez said maintenance was complete and the ship could now resume its scan of the Mediterranean.
The announcement dashed hopes when Turkey and Greece agreed exploratory talks last month following Germany's diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis.
Talks had stalled since 2016 and were expected to resume in Istanbul, but an exact date was not given.
The Turkish and Greek foreign ministers met last week on the sidelines of a security forum in the Slovakian capital, Bratislava, for talks at the highest level since the tensions began.
According to a source from the Greek Foreign Ministry, ministers had agreed to set a date for the exploratory talks to begin.
At a summit earlier this month, the European Union threatened sanctions if Turkey does not stop what the bloc says is illegal drilling and energy exploration activities in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece.
Turkey described the threat as "unconstructive" but its latest move will further strain Ankara's already strained relationship with Brussels.
According to the Turkish state broadcaster TRT, the German foreign minister is expected to visit Ankara on Wednesday, where the eastern Mediterranean will be high on the agenda.
raz / fo / jxb
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