Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday Ankara was open to “constructive” talks but would remain determined in its standoff with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean.
Erdogan made the comments during a video conference call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of an EU summit next week, at which the bloc will discuss imposing sanctions on Turkey for its energy search in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece.
Germany has taken the lead in trying to end a conflict that has seen NATO’s two neighbors hold rival air and sea exercises in strategic waters between Cyprus and Crete.
The Turkish presidency said Erdogan told Merkel that the dispute “could be resolved through negotiations … provided that a constructive, fairness-based approach prevails.”
Erdogan “stressed that he will continue to implement a decisive and active policy regarding Turkey’s rights,” his office said.
Turkey says the EU is unjustly supporting Greece in a maritime dispute that dates back decades but has gained prominence with the discovery of large natural gas fields in recent years.
‘Continue our operations’
The stalemate appeared to ease when the Turkish research vessel Oruc Reis and its accompanying fleet of warships ended their month-long mission near a Greek island and returned ashore over the weekend. last end.
But Turkey stressed that the ship is only undergoing scheduled maintenance and will soon continue its exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told CNN Turk on Wednesday that Oruc Reis’ interview could take “a few weeks”.
“Once the maintenance is complete, we will continue our operations with determination,” he said.
The Turkish navy also announced on Tuesday the extension of the Yavuz drilling vessel’s stay in the disputed waters near Cyprus until October 12.
On Wednesday, the EU urged Turkey to withdraw Yavuz from the region in the same way it displaced Oruc Reis.
“The recent withdrawal of the research vessel Oruc Reis is an important step paving the way for a constructive dialogue between Greece and Turkey. The EU is also calling for similar decisions with regard to Cyprus, ”said a spokesman for the bloc’s diplomatic head Josep Borrell.
“There is an opportunity to continue the immediate de-escalation and to resume dialogue and negotiations, which is the only path to lasting solutions,” he added.
“Blackmail and threats”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday he was concerned about Turkey’s decision to extend the operation of its Yavuz energy drill vessel in disputed Mediterranean waters.
“Turkey has a choice – to engage with Europe constructively or to continue its unilateral actions and face the consequences,” he said in an interview with The Economist.
The Turkish and Greek war games attracted the powers of the EU and even the naval assets of the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
NATO periodically holds rounds of technical talks aimed at opening lines of communication that could prevent Greece and Turkey from accidentally going to war.
The warships of their two navies collided on August 12 in an incident that prompted Erdogan to warn Greece of a “heavy price” to be paid if Turkish ships were attacked.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that nothing could justify Turkey’s intimidation of Greece and Cyprus.
Cyprus, meanwhile, has declared itself ready to speak to Turkey to resolve the differences, but only “without blackmail or threats,” its president said on Wednesday.
“Nicosia has always been ready for a dialogue but for that … to be effective, it must be clearly defined on the basis of international law, without blackmail or threats,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said after talks with the President of the Council European, Charles Michel, who chairs the European summits.
Anastasiades said Turkey’s decision to expand the operations of the Yavuz drillship came at a time when the EU, of which Cyprus is a member state, was trying to reduce tensions.
EU leaders will look for ways to defuse tensions at the September 24-25 summit.
“In view of the EU Council meeting next week, we have stressed the importance of staying united on the messages [to Turkey] and determined to implement our decisions if the illegal actions continue, ”said Anastasiades.
Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakci told an online panel on EU-Turkey relations that the operations responded to “unilateral actions” by the Greek Cypriots and Greece.
“This is not intimidation, it’s just to say that Turkey will continue to defend its own rights as well as the rights of Turkish Cypriots,” Kaymakci said.
Cyprus was split in two after a 1974 Turkish invasion in response to a brief Greek-inspired coup. Turkey recognizes the separatist northern Turkish Cypriot state, but not the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government.
The government has long been at odds with Turkey, which last year started drilling for oil and gas near Cyprus.