Turkey's naval operations inflaming Mediterranean tensions, says EU

The bloc's 27 foreign ministers hinted at possible sanctions if tensions don't reduce

A Greek Navy ship is docked at the port during the Assumption of the Virgin Mary service at the Holy Church of Panagia of Tinos, on the Aegean island of Tinos, Greece, on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. The European Union's foreign policy chief expressed "full solidarity" with Greece and Cyprus and urged a "immediate deescalation" by Turkey after EU foreign ministers held urgent talks Friday on high military tensions over offshore drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
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The European Union’s 27 foreign ministers have rallied behind Greece and Cyprus over its territorial dispute with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, and warned that Turkish naval mobilisations were only exacerbating an already “grave” situation.

A statement by the ministers hinted at the possibility of sanctions in the future if Turkey failed to de-escalate, with a broader discussion on relations with Ankara expected to take place later this month.

The virtual meeting came after a minor collision between a Greek and Turkish warship in the eastern Mediterranean was made public, where Ankara is entangled in a row with Greece over Turkey’s oil and gas exploration in contested waters.

Greece says it wants all parties to respect international law, with foreign minister Nikos Dendias on Friday saying he hoped there would not be any conflict.

Mr Dendias met with his American counterpart Mike Pompeo in Vienna on Friday to discuss the matter while US president Donald Trump and French leader Emmanuel Macron during a call said they were concerned about the uptick in tensions between Nato members Greece and Turkey.

“Turkey is the only (party) responsible for the escalation of tension in the eastern Mediterranean, and it must immediately leave the Greek continental shelf,” Mr Dendias said after Friday's talks. “That is a necessary precondition for de-escalation.”

The EU’s 27 foreign ministers said they backed efforts by chief diplomat Josep Borrell – also known as the High Representative – to resolve the issue through dialogue and engaging with Turkey.

“At the same time, the High Representative/Vice-President is to prepare options on further appropriate measures in case tensions do not abate,” they said.

Turkey was also heavily criticised for recent in actions in the eastern Mediterranean, which Mr Borrell last week described as extremely worrying.

“Ministers stressed in particular that recent naval mobilisations by Turkey do not contribute to finding any solutions. On the contrary, they will lead to greater antagonism and distrust.

“They create a heightened risk of dangerous incidents. Immediate de-escalation by Turkey was considered crucial.”

Expressing solidarity with Greece and Cyprus, the EU statement warned of the wider ramifications that the spat is causing.

“Ministers stressed that the serious deterioration in the relationship with Turkey is having far-reaching strategic consequences for the entire EU, well beyond the eastern Mediterranean.”

On Friday, Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar vowed to respond to any interference in its energy exploration.

"No intervention on our ships have been or will be left unanswered. We want everyone to know that we are unyielding on this issue,” Mr Akar told Turkish naval commanders, according to the Anadolu Agency.

"We're determined to protect our rights and interests in our seas and to do what is necessary and we're capable of doing so.” He was also deeply critical of a recently signed maritime agreement between Greece and Egypt, and claimed it had no legal basis.

Turkey claims it has every right to prospect in the area, as well as in neighbouring waters Cyprus considers its own.