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Turkey Refuses To Suspend Maritime Gas Exploration, Multiple Military Exercises And Manoeuvres Continue

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Turkey Refuses To Suspend Maritime Gas Exploration, Multiple Military Exercises And Manoeuvres Continue

Tensions continue to escalate in the eastern Mediterranean

Greece has announced plans to extend its territorial waters along its western coastline facing Italy, and held a second day of military exercises in waters where Turkey has sent a survey ship escorted by warships to explore for oil and gas, challenging Greece’s claim to maritime jurisdiction over the area.

The Turkish vessel Oruc Reis has been carrying out seismic research for oil and gas for several weeks escorted by Turkish warships. Athens, which says the ship is operating over Greece’s continental shelf in an area where it has exclusive rights on potential undersea gas and oil deposits, sent warships to observe and track the Turkish flotilla.

Both countries have sent warships to shadow each other this month in an area between Crete and Cyprus where the Turkish vessel is prospecting for potential gas and oil deposits. Greece and Turkey both conducted military exercises within the area on Tuesday (25 May).

Speaking before the national Parliament earlier this week, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece is planning to exercise its legal right to extend its territorial waters along its western coastline, which faces Italy, from six to 12 nautical miles.

The planned extension would not affect the territory at the centre of the Greek-Turkish dispute. But the prime minister told parliament that Greece was abandoning decades of ‘passive’ foreign policy. Turkey has warned in the past that an extension of Greek waters to 12 nautical miles in the Aegean Sea, facing the Turkish littoral, would be seen as a reason to declare war on Greece.

Mitsotakis described Turkey’s actions as ‘illegal and provocative’, adding that Athens was willing to start talks as part of a German-brokered initiative, but only if the Turkish seismic surveying work were halted. “Our position is crystal clear and can be summarized in six words: When provocations stop, talks can start,” he said during a debate on the ratification of deals Greece recently made with Italy and Egypt setting out maritime boundaries and Exclusive Economic Zones. Greece’s deal with Egypt in particular has angered Turkey.

Lawmakers ratified the Italy deal by majority vote late Wednesday. They also ratified most of the agreement with Egypt, with a vote on one article remaining to be voted upon later this week. The government holds a comfortable majority in parliament, and the article is expected to pass. LINK

Meanwhile, Turkey has accused France of exacerbating the conflict after joining joint exercises with Greece, Italy and Cyprus. President Erdogan stated on Thursday that Turkey has no intention of suspending gas exploration activities in disputed areas.

The declarations followed a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Berlin to try to persuade EU member Greece and neighbouring Turkey to return to diplomatic paths to resolve their dispute over maritime boundaries and jurisdiction.

The ministers were expected to debate a series of sanctions and other policy options that could be used to pressure Turkey to suspend drilling for energy reserves in the disputed areas of the eastern Mediterranean.

Germany has promised to act as a bridge between the two neighbours to defuse tensions, while on Wednesday US President Donald Trump held phone calls with the leaders of Greece and Turkey.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said he was in “constant contact” with Greece and Turkey. “My message is that the situation must be resolved in a spirit of allied solidarity and in accordance with international law,” Stoltenberg said when meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. “Dialogue and de-escalation are in everyone’s interest.”

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akara criticized France for joining Italy, Greece and Cyprus in three-day air and maritime military exercises off the eastern Mediterranean island, saying Turkey will not be deterred by the show of force, and Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy accused France of deploying fighter jets on the ethnically divided island of Cyprus under the ‘pretext’ of conducting military exercises, claiming that the deployment is a breach of the treaties reached in 1960.

France and Greece are deploying fighter jets and navy ships as part of military drills, while Cyprus will activate its air defence system to test its capabilities, the Cyprus Defence Ministry reported on Wednesday.

Turkey has also issued an advisory notice, known as Navtex, stating that it will be conducting live-fire military exercises on September 1 and 2 off the southern coast of the Mediterranean, that is, off the coast of Cyprus. LINK

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