Greece seeks emergency EU meeting on Turkey

File photo. National seismic exploration vessel Oruc Reis sails on the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, 21 November 2018. [Tolga Bozoglou/EPA/EFE]

Greece wants the EU to hold an emergency foreign ministers’ meeting, the prime minister’s office said Tuesday (11 August) amid a burgeoning row with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean.

Tensions were stoked Monday when Ankara sent the research ship Oruç Reis off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, where Turkey disputes Greek maritime rights.

“The foreign minister (will) request an emergency meeting of the European Union foreign affairs council,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ office said.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the situation was “extremely worrying and needs to be solved in a dialogue.”

“I cannot tell you if there will be decision made today. But, of course, we agree that the situation in the eastern Mediterranean is extremely worrying and needs to be solved in a dialogue, not in series and sequence of steps that are increasing the escalation and the tensions,” spokesman Peter Stano told reporters.

“Apparently the developments on the ground unfortunately show that… more needs to be done in order to defuse the tensions and reverse the very negative and unfortunate trend of escalation.”

“That’s why (Borrell) stated that he is deploying all efforts necessary to re-establish the dialogue, positive constructive dialogue and to facilitate the re-engagement, and these efforts are ongoing,” the spokesman said.

Marine tracking on Tuesday located the vessel southeast of the island of Crete. It is escorted by a Turkish navy flotilla and shadowed by Greek warships.

An official Turkish picture shows the Oruc Reis escorted by five warships.

Turkey has announced the vessel would carry out activities between 10 and 23 Augist.

A similar crisis last month was averted after Turkey pulled the ship back to hold talks with Greece and rotating EU chair Germany.

But the mood soured last week after Greece and Egypt signed an agreement to set up an exclusive economic zone in the region.

‘Antagonism and distrust’

Energy exploration in the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean is a frequent source of tension between Turkey and a bloc of its neighbours including Greece, Cyprus and Israel.

Mitsotakis on Monday conferred with his military chiefs and spoke with EU Council President Charles Michel and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Borrell on Sunday called Turkey’s actions “extremely worrying” and a recipe for “greater antagonism and distrust”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sounded a slightly more conciliatory note after a meeting with his own ministers later Monday.

“Let us all come together as Mediterranean countries and find a formula that protects all of our rights,” Erdoğan said in a national address.

But Erdoğan added: “We cannot allow (nations) to ignore a big country like Turkey and try to imprison us to our shores.”

Stoltenberg urged respect for international law during talks on Monday with the Greek premier.

“The situation must be resolved in a spirit of Allied solidarity and in accordance with international law,” Stoltenberg tweeted.

The Turkish foreign ministry said the Greece-Egypt agreement was “null and void”.

Egypt, Cyprus and Greece have likewise denounced a contentious deal, including a security agreement, signed last year between Ankara and the UN-recognised government in Libya.

Greece, Cyprus and Israel in January signed an agreement for a huge pipeline project to transport gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe despite Turkey’s hostility to the deal.

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