Turkey has said it will suspend research for oil and gas exploration off a Greek island amid tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Greece’s navy last week said it had deployed ships in the Aegean in “heightened readiness” after Turkey announced plans for energy exploration near the island of Kastellorizo.
In an interview with national broadcaster CNN Turk, spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Tuesday President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had requested that operations be put on hold.
A Turkish vessel, the Oruc Reis, planned to search for hydrocarbons “180 kilometres (110 miles) from the island of Meis (Kastellorizo in Greek)”, Kalin said.
“Despite this, our president said while the negotiations are continuing, let’s be constructive and hold for a while,” he said.
Kalin on Tuesday said Greece was an “important neighbour” to Turkey and added: “We are ready to discuss with Greece without any conditions.”
On Monday, Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Turkey was withdrawing navy vessels from the area, adding that Athens remained ready to enter negotiations with Turkey “within the framework of international law and good neighbourly relations”.
Long-standing tensions between the uneasy NATO allies escalated last week after Turkey’s navy on Tuesday issued an advisory known as a Navtex for seismic surveys in waters between Cyprus and Crete.
French President Emmanuel Macron called for Turkey to be “sanctioned” and accused Ankara of treading on the rights of Greece and Cyprus, as all three nations scramble to exploit recently discovered gas reserves.
Relations between the European Union and Ankara have deteriorated over multiple issues, despite Turkey still formally being a candidate for membership.
As well as drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus, and support for the opposite side in the crisis in Libya, Turkey infuriated Greece and the EU earlier this year when it stopped preventing refugees from leaving for Europe, causing a surge of tens of thousands of refugees at the Greek border.
Erdogan’s recent move to turn the iconic Hagia Sophia, originally built as a Byzantine cathedral, back into a mosque has been the latest matter of contention, with Greece calling the move “a provocation to the civilised world”.
Turkey has defended the reconversion of the Istanbul landmark and described foreign criticism as an attack on its sovereignty.