The foreign ministers of Greece and the United States will meet in Vienna on Friday to discuss tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Greek foreign ministry said, amid a dispute between Athens and Ankara over hydrocarbon resources.
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced later on Wednesday that Greece has put its armed forces on alert in response to the same move by Turkey and warned that when so many military forces gather in such a small area, the risk of “an accident” is heightened. He said the responsibility for any incidents will be borne by the party that caused these conditions.
Turkish actions in the Eastern Mediterranean will also be on the agenda of an extraordinary video teleconference of EU foreign affairs ministers that will take place on Friday. An invitation sent Wednesday morning to EU foreign affairs ministers said that the EU High Representative Josep Borrell had called the meeting for Friday afternoon.
The meeting between Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes days after Turkey dispatched the seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis to an area of sea claimed by both nations, saying it will operate there until August 23.
Turkey has said it plans to issue gas exploration and drilling licences in the region, somewhere between the Greek island of Crete and Cyprus, this month.
Nato allies Greece and Turkey vehemently disagree about their overlapping claims on hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean, based on conflicting views of how far their continental shelves extend in waters dotted with islands.
Turkey’s latest moves, days after Greece signed a maritime deal with Egypt which angered Ankara, have further raised tensions with its neighbour, ending a brief period of calm brokered by Germany.
Dendias urged Turkey on Tuesday to “immediately leave the Greek continental shelf” saying the country was determined to defend its sovereign rights. Athens has also called for an emergency EU meeting to address the issue.
In his address to the nation on Wednesday, Mitsotakis announced the armed forces were on alert and warned that Greece “does not threaten anyone but will not be blackmailed, nor will it tolerate provocative actions.”
He said the agreements Greece signed with Egypt and Italy on the delimitation of their exclusive economic zones, were fully in line with the UN law of the sea and proof that disagreements going back for years can be resolved when there is good will and trust. He called on Turkey to talk with Greece on the delimitation of the marine zones in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.
The United States has appealed for a resumption of direct talks between Turkey and Greece, which Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said had been under way for two months until they were broken off last week.
Turkey said the deal with Egypt – which Greek diplomats said effectively nullified an accord between Turkey and the internationally recognised government of Libya – showed it could not trust Athens, and vowed to continue surveying waters that are also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
Turkey said later on Wednesday it wanted to resolve a dispute with Greece through dialogue, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said, but added that Ankara would defend its “rights and interests” in the region.
“Despite all this, we want to believe that common sense will prevail. Both on the field and at the table, we side with international law, good neighbourliness and dialogue,” Akar told Reuters. “We want to reach political solutions through peaceful means in line with international laws.”
Akar said Turkey would continue to defend its “rights, ties and interests” in coastal waters. “It should be known that our seas are our blue homeland. Every drop is valuable,” he said.
Also, on Wednesday, Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides spoke on the phone with Greece’s Dendias ahead of Friday’s EU meeting on Turkey.
In a post on Twitter Dendias wrote: “In a telephone conversation with the minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Cyprus Nicos Christodoulides, we discussed the Turkish illegalities in view of the extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers”.
Meanwhile, Turkey announced late on Tuesday that the Oruc Reis would lay 1,750 metres of cables for seismic surveys in region by August 23, Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said.
Donmez posted a video on Twitter Tuesday night showing the work being done on the ship, writing “Mediterranean step by step”. The post also refers to the laying of the cables.
At the same time, statements by Akar said there could be no hydrocarbons plan for the Mediterranean that did not include Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.
He made the statements during a teleconference with the commanders and heads of the security forces.
According to Turkish media, in the teleconference, Akar said all measures had been taken to protect Turkey’s rights and interests in the eastern Mediterranean and “no plan that will not include Turkey and the TRNC will be allowed to be carried out”.
The Turkish foreign ministry was reportedly briefed about the surveys being done by the Oruc Reis.
On Tuesday the European Commission said it stood in full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus, as Ankara 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 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 but began moving northwest on Wednesday. The vessel is being escorted by auxiliary and Turkish navy vessels while the situation is being monitored by the Greek armed forces. Unconfirmed military sources later told the Cyprus News Agency that the vessel left the Greek continental shelf and entered Turkish waters just after 7pm on Wednesday
Also on Wednesday, Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign minister’ Kudret Ozersay weighed in, saying the recent developments in the region were not just about Cyprus but “the bigger picture in the eastern Mediterranean”.
According to Ozersay, the ‘TRNC’ should also be a player in the region. “The voice of the Turkish Cypriots should be heard and respected,” he said.
“We must uphold our rights. We must not leave a gap when it comes to our share of the natural wealth. Now, together with Turkey, we have reached the point of licensing, issuing Navtex, conducting seismic surveys and sending drilling rigs.
“Sooner or later the Greek Cypriot side will understand that the Turkish Cypriot state must be taken into account in order to make an agreement. After all, the international community is already saying ‘sit down and find a solution to this issue’,” he added. “If we wait for the solution of the Cyprus problem with negotiations having gone on for 52 years now, we will not get anywhere.”