Emmanuel Macron on Thursday ordered French forces to travel to the eastern Mediterranean where tensions have intensified between Greece and Turkey over the disputed waters.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warmly welcomed the decision, tweeting Thursday that Macron was “a true friend of Greece and also a fervent protector of European values and international law”.
Meanwhile, Turkey accused Greece and the island nation of Cyprus of infringing on its rights in the Mediterranean and pledged to defend its interests in the region – but also called for dialogue to resolve the dispute.
Turkey recently deployed a seismic research vessel, escorted by warships, to the waters between Crete and Cyprus to explore offshore oil and gas.
Greece says part of the area covers its continental shelf and has demanded the withdrawal of Turkish ships. Turkey has said it has the right to conduct research there. Greece has put its army on high alert and sent warships to the region off the southern coast of Turkey.
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In Ankara, and later in discussions with European officials, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated a call for dialogue and negotiation to achieve a win-win situation for the three countries that preserves the rights of each state in the sea.
“We have no idea of anyone’s rights, but we won’t let any country take our rights away from us,” Erdrogan said.
He also accused France of pushing Greece and Cyprus to take unwarranted action.
Macron announced on Wednesday evening that he had decided to “temporarily strengthen the French military presence in the eastern Mediterranean in the coming days, in cooperation with European partners including Greece”.
France, a NATO and European Union ally with Greece, is the EU’s greatest military power. To complicate matters, Turkey – Greece’s historic regional rival – is also a member of NATO but has poor relations with France.
In a televised statement Wednesday, Mitsotakis warned of the “risk of accident” in the sea area where Greek and Turkish warships are gathered.
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“In such a case, the responsibility lies with whoever gives rise to these circumstances,” he said. He added that Greece was not opposed to “even the most difficult dialogue”, but that “dialogue becomes unnecessary in a climate of tension and provocation”.
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Greece’s prime minister has vowed not to escalate the stalemate at sea, but he has remained steadfast.
“Yet self-control is only one aspect of our power,” Mitsotakis said. “No provocation… will go unanswered. ”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.