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EU says situation ‘worrying’ as Turkey threatens to license new areas in region (Update 3)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu

The European Commission stands in full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus, it said on Tuesday as Turkey announced it would issue seismic exploration and drilling licences in new areas of the eastern Mediterranean by the end of August and continue its operations in the region.

The announcement came from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu amid tensions with Greece a day after Ankara dispatched its seismic vessel Oruc Reis to an area Greece says is within its continental shelf, south of the island of Megisti.

The Greek prime minister’s office said Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias will request an emergency meeting of the EU foreign affairs council on the matter. Athens would defend its rights, he said. The EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Berlin on August 27-28.

Earlier, European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said consultations among member states would take place before a decision on Greece’s request is made.

“We agree that the situation in the eastern Mediterranean is extremely worrying and needs to be solved in a dialogue, not in a series and sequence of steps that are increasing the escalation and the tensions,” he said. He added that the “EU stands in full solidarity with Cyprus and Greece.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke about Turkish activity in the Mediterranean with President Nicos Anastasiades on Tuesday, government spokesman Kyriacos Kousios said.

Mitsotakis informed Anastasiades about the situation in Greece and his contacts with other EU officials, and government leaders on the matter and blocking Ankara’s illegal actions.

Kousios said Cyprus and Athens also coordinated the measures they would take to deal with Turkey, and they agreed to remain in constant contact.

Athens said that the latest Turkish move, “in combination with the broad mobility by Turkish naval units that has been observed, constitutes a new serious escalation and clearly exposes Turkey’s role which is destabilising and threatening to peace.”

The Oruc Reis was dispatched to the area after Turkey issued a Navtex covering a marine area south of Antalya and west of Cyprus between August 10 and 23.

The vessel, which according to Greek media, entered the easternmost point of the Greek continental shelf on Monday, remained in the area on Tuesday. The vessel was escorted by auxiliary and Turkish Navy vessels while the situation is being monitored by the Greek Armed Forces.

Nato allies Turkey and Greece are at odds over overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean. A similar dispute last month was calmed after German Chancellor Angela Merkel intervened, leading Turkey to pause its operations. President Tayyip Erdogan said last Friday Turkey had resumed work after Greece announced a maritime deal with Egypt.

According to Reuters, speaking at a news conference in Ankara on Tuesday, Cavusoglu said Turkey would issue new licences for operations near the western borders of its continental shelf and continue “all sorts of seismic and drilling operations” in the area.

“Our determination is unfaltering here,” Cavusoglu told reporters. “We will not compromise in any way from this.”

Backing up Cavusoglu, Turkey’s communications director Fahrettin Altun tweeted video footage of Turkish fighter jets, warships and exploration vessels deployed at sea.

“Every drop of our blue homeland is sacred,” Altun tweeted, referring to a doctrine championed by recent Turkish naval commanders calling for Ankara to adopt a more muscular approach in its coastal waters.

Turkey has already dispatched the Barbaros exploratory vessel in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), east of Famagusta, for surveys in an area covering large parts of Cyprus’ offshore blocks 2 and 3, and a small part of block 13.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides said on Tuesday Turkey’s illegal seismic surveys off Greece and Cyprus are a blatant violation of the two countries’ sovereign rights.

“Unfortunately, once again, Turkey is choosing the path of unilateral illegal actions, provocatively turning its back on the prospect of dialogue, on the basis of international law and the principles of good neighbourliness,” Christodoulides told the Cyprus News Agency.

He added that all these actions against two EU member states can only be taken into account in the context of the assessment of the EU’s relations with Turkey and the measures that will be taken collectively, as decided by the bloc’s recent foreign affairs council.

Turkey’s foreign ministry on Monday said they resumed the Oruc Reis’ activities after Greece’s “pirated agreement” with Egypt last week on the delimitation of their EEZs demonstrated that Athens was not sincere and honest about dialogue.

The Greece-Egypt agreement, Ankara said, violates the continental shelves of both Turkey and Libya in the eastern Mediterranean and due to this, its research vessel Oruç Reis has launched its previously planned activity.

Ankara also claimed there is no legal basis for the objections of Greece to this activity while the Greek islands in the region, Kastellorizo in particular, were cutting off Turkey’s continental shelf which was against the principle of equity “the main principle of international law for maritime boundary delimitation.”

Turkey says it has the longest coastline in the eastern Mediterranean but that it is penned in to a narrow strip of coastal water by the presence of numerous small Greek islands close to its shore. Greece and other regional states cite a United Nations accord to support their maritime demarcations.

It also warned that “nobody should try to overstep the line by attempting to exclude Turkey from the Mediterranean Sea which had been under Turkish dominance for centuries.”

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