Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 September 2020

France to boost Mediterranean military presence as standoff with Turkey deepens

Greek PM warns of potential for 'accident' as naval forces gather in disputed zone

France will strengthen its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday, as a standoff with Turkey continued to build over the disputed zone.

Mr Macron called on Turkey to halt its oil and gas exploration in that disputed waters, which has increased tension with Greece in recent months.

He voiced concern over "unilateral" exploration by Turkey in a call with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Elysee said.

It said the exploration should "cease in order to allow a peaceful dialogue" between the neighbouring Nato members.

France will "temporarily reinforce" its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean to "monitor the situation in the region and mark its determination to uphold international law".

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Mitsotakis warned of the potential for a mishap, with Greek and Turkish navies in the area.

“The risk of an accident lurks when so many naval forces gather in a limited area and responsibility in such a case will be borne by the one who causes these conditions,” he said in a televised address.

Map shows competing maritime borders according to agreements made by Athens and Cairo, Tripoli and Ankara
Map shows competing maritime borders according to agreements made between Athens and Cairo, and Tripoli and Ankara

Tensions between Athens and Ankara have flared in the region after the Turkish research vessel Oruc Reis was sent into water off eastern Greek islands.

Dozens of Greek and Turkish warships are now on alert in the surrounding area, with a continuing threat of direct confrontation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to meet Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Vienna on Friday.

The US has called for talks between Greece and Turkey sides, mediated by Germany, to resume.

Also on Friday, EU foreign ministers will hold an extraordinary online meeting to discuss the issue.

The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, on Wednesday called for the meeting after requests from Mr Dendias and Mr Mitsotakis.

Brussels has reportedly considered sanctions against Turkish officials over the encroachment.

The EU has imposed such penalties on people linked to Ankara’s earlier drilling activities in the area.

The dispute between Turkey and Greece stretches back decades and centres on areas bordering the many Greek islands in the region.

Turkey’s claims to the waters, which it says are on its continental shelf, have repeatedly been dismissed as illegal by Greece and its allies.

Renewed, competing claims by Greece and Turkey over the waters have crossed into the conflict in Libya, the shores of which also stretch across a large part of the Mediterranean coast.

In December Ankara and Libya’s Government of National Accord in Tripoli signed an agreement on maritime borders that favoured Turkey.

In exchange, Ankara promised military support to the government in Tripoli.

Last week, Greece and Egypt agreed on their own maritime border deal.

The UAE has thrown its weight behind the Greek-Egyptian deal, while Turkey has railed against the Cairo accord, calling it a provocation.

Ankara has vowed to continue surveying waters in the area over coming weeks.

Mr Dendias on Tuesday urged Turkey to “immediately leave the Greek continental shelf”, saying the country was determined to defend its sovereign rights.

Updated: August 14, 2020 02:49 PM

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