France strengthens its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean | News

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France will strengthen its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean amid growing confrontation between Greece and Turkey over oil and gas exploration in disputed waters.

France will send two Rafale fighter jets and the naval frigate “Lafayette” to the region as part of plans to increase its military presence, the Ministry of the Armed Forces said Thursday.

French President Emmanuel Macron described the situation in the eastern Mediterranean as “worrying”, and urged Turkey to stop its “unilateral” prospecting and “allow a peaceful dialogue” between neighboring NATO members.

“I have decided to temporarily strengthen the French military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean in the coming days, in cooperation with European partners, including Greece,” Macron said on Twitter on Wednesday.

NATO allies Turkey and Greece vehemently disagree over the overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in the region based on conflicting views on the extent of their continental shelves in mainly dotted waters of Greek islands. The region’s gas-rich waters are also a frequent source of disputes between Turkey, Cyprus and Israel.

The Ankara-Athens dispute escalated this week when Turkey dispatched the research vessel Oruc Reis accompanied by Turkish Navy ships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

Greece has also deployed warships to monitor the ship, which is currently sailing west of Cyprus.

Macron’s office, in a statement, said France’s increased military presence in the region was aimed at monitoring the situation and marked “Paris’ determination to uphold international law.”

Last month, the French leader called for EU sanctions against Turkey for what he called “violations” of Greek and Cypriot sovereignty over their territorial waters. Relations between Paris and Ankara have also faltered because of the conflict in Libya.

‘Risk of accident’

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a statement urged Turkey to use “sense” and warned that the confrontation in the eastern Mediterranean could lead to a military accident.

“We are watching with impatience to finally feel the prevalence in our neighboring country so that the dialogue can be relaunched in good faith,” said the Prime Minister. “The risk of accident looms when so many military assets are assembled in such a confined area. ”

Athens would not seek to make the situation worse, he said, but added: “No provocation will go unanswered. ”

Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s defense minister, echoed this sentiment in an interview with Reuters news agency.

“We want to achieve political solutions by peaceful means in accordance with international law,” he said, but warned that Turkey would continue to defend its “rights, ties and interests” in coastal waters.

Turkey claims that it has the longest coastline in the eastern Mediterranean, but is sunk into a narrow strip of waters due to the extension of the Greek continental shelf, due to the presence of many Greek islands near from its shore.

Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis is escorted by Turkish Navy ships as it sets sail in the Mediterranean Sea off Antalya, Turkey on August 10, 2020 [Turkish defence ministry handout via Reuters]

The island of Kastellorizo, located about two kilometers off the southern coast of Turkey and 570 km from the Greek mainland, is a particular source of Turkish frustration.

“Greece’s request for an area of ​​maritime jurisdiction of 40,000 square kilometers due to the 10 square kilometers of the island of Meis [Kastellorizo] … Cannot be reconciled with any logic ”, he declared.

Greece’s claim to the waters around Kastellorizo ​​is based on a United Nations maritime convention endorsed by many countries, but not by Turkey.

Ankara has said it will issue new exploration and drilling licenses in the eastern Mediterranean, while Athens has demanded the immediate withdrawal of Oruc Reis from the region.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was due to visit Israel on Thursday for talks, his office said, and will also discuss the matter with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Vienna on Friday.

EU foreign minister Josep Borrell said the bloc’s foreign ministers would hold an extraordinary meeting on Friday to discuss the Eastern Mediterranean, Lebanon and Belarus.

Charles Kupchan, senior researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, said NATO members were increasingly worried about the potential for a Greece-Turkey confrontation.

“No one wants to go to war. Nobody wants to see two NATO members mixed up, ”he told Al Jazeera. “On the other hand, when you have so many warships, when the tensions are so high… things are in a dangerous place. ”

Noting the diplomatic scramble to defuse tensions, Kupchan said: “In a way, you see a diplomatic response at all levels… And I think the French are trying to say wait, we’ll try to cool the temperature down here before things get out of hand. ”

A similar crisis last month was averted after Turkey withdrew Oruc Reis to hold talks with Greece and Germany’s rotating EU presidency.

But the mood deteriorated last week after Greece and Egypt signed an agreement to create an exclusive economic zone in the region. Turkey’s foreign ministry said the Greece-Egypt deal was “null and void”.

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

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