The Greek government yesterday welcomed a Turkish survey vessel’s return to port from a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean Sea that has been at the heart of a summer standoff between Greece and Turkey over energy rights.
The Oruc Reis research ship returned to waters near the southern Turkish port of Antalya for the first time in weeks after Turkey announced in July that it was dispatching a vessel to work in waters that Greece claims are its exclusive jurisdiction.
“This is a positive signal. We will see how this develops to make a proper assessment,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told TV channel Skai.
The dispute over potential oil and gas reserves has triggered a military buildup in the eastern Mediterranean. NATO allies Turkey and Greece dispatched warships to the area where the Oruc Reis was engaged in seismic research and conducted military exercises to assert their claims.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday called for a diplomatic solution to the confrontation, saying military tensions between two NATO allies only serve the alliance’s foes.
“Increased military tensions help no one, but adversaries who would like to see division in transatlantic unity,” Pompeo said after talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.
Pompeo said that US President Donald Trump has already spoken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in hopes of ending the standoff.
Greek and Turkish warships have been staring each other down in the past few weeks as Turkish research vessels and drill ships continue searching for hydrocarbons in waters where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights.
So far, three sizable gas discoveries have been made inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone where energy companies, including Total of France, Italy’s Eni and ExxonMobil, are licensed to carry out hydrocarbons searches.
EU members Greece and Cyprus have accused Turkey of violating international law and have been trying to rally fellow bloc members to impose tougher sanctions against Turkey.
Turkey, which does not recognize Cyprus as a state, has said it has every right to prospect in those waters and is doing so to defend its rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots on ethnically divided Cyprus to a potential mineral bounty.
Mitsotakis also on Saturday outlined plans to upgrade Greece’s defense capabilities, including purchasing new fighter planes, frigates, helicopters and weapons systems amid heightened tensions.
In an annual state of the economy speech, Mitsotakis said that Greece would obtain 18 French-made Rafale fighter jets to replace its aging Mirage 2000 fighters, as well as four navy helicopters and four new frigates, while refurbishing another four frigates.
The armed forces is to obtain new anti-tank weapons, torpedoes and guided missiles, as well as hire 15,000 people over the next five years, he said.
France welcomed the Rafale acquisition, the first by a European country.
“Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly welcomes the choice announced today by Prime Minister Mitsotakis to acquire 18 Rafale aircraft,” the French Ministry of Armed Forces said in a statement.
“This choice ... strengthens the link between the Greek and French armed forces, and will allow them to intensify their operational and strategic cooperation,” the statement said, adding that a contract will be signed “in the coming months.”
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