East Med crisis: US demands Turkey end ‘calculated provocation’

Ankara has sent a research ship back to contested waters, prompting angry responses from Athens and its allies.

A view of Turkey's research vessel, Oruc Reis [File: Burhan Ozbilici/AP]

The United States on Tuesday demanded that Turkey pull back an energy research ship that it sent back into waters contested with Greece, calling the move a “calculated provocation”.

Turkey’s move on Monday to carry out a seismic survey south of the Greek island Kastellorizo prompted anger from Greece, France and Germany.

“Coercion, threats, intimidation, and military activity will not resolve tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. We urge Turkey to end this calculated provocation and immediately begin exploratory talks with Greece,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said, adding Washington “deplores” Ankara’s decision.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also criticised Turkey for redeploying the vessel, calling the unilateral move a blow to efforts to start negotiations in the conflict.

“Turkey’s back and forth between escalation and a policy of detente has to stop,” Maas said after meeting his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides in Nicosia on Tuesday. “It is up to Turkey to create the conditions for talks.”

Maas, whose trip was supposed to mediate and reduce tensions in the region, said he had deliberately left Ankara out of his itinerary.

“My decision only to travel to Nicosia and Athens today is owing to the current developments that we have been talking about,” he added.

‘Take the X-ray’

Late on Sunday, Turkey’s navy issued an advisory, saying the Oruc Reis ship would conduct a seismic survey over the next 10 days.

Energy Minister Fatih Donmez tweeted the Oruc Reis raised its anchor to “take the X-ray” of the Mediterranean seabed, after the completion of maintenance work.

“The new Turkish NAVTEX on surveys south of Kastellorizo within the Greek continental shelf, at a distance of just 6.5 nautical miles [12km] from Greek shores, is a major escalation,” Greece’s foreign ministry said.

Turkey announced last month it was pulling the Oruc Reis to shore for maintenance and resupply, saying the move would give “diplomacy a chance”.

Monday’s move showed Ankara was “unreliable” and “does not really truly want a dialogue”, the statement said, as it came days after Turkey committed to proposing a date for exploratory talks at a meeting between Greek and Turkish foreign ministers.

But Turkey said Greece had no right to oppose its work 15km (9.3 miles) from its mainland in the Eastern Mediterranean and on its continental shelf.

Tensions came to a head earlier this year when each side made overlapping claims to swaths of the Eastern Mediterranean, and Turkey dispatched the Oruc Reis to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects, infuriating Greece.

Source: News Agencies