ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey favors a dialogue with rival Greece that would lead to the fair sharing of resources in the eastern Mediterranean, the country’s foreign minister said Tuesday about the tense standoff that other nations worry could spill into a military conflict.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also accused Greece of engaging in “provocative acts” in the region with the backing of the European Union, which has threatened sanctions against Ankara.
“We favor a joint solution that involves sitting around the table to negotiate with all sides in the eastern Mediterranean, for everyone to benefit from the eastern Mediterranean resources in a just manner,” Cavusoglu said, speaking at a news conference with his Algerian counterpart.
In recent weeks, Turkish and Greek warships have shadowed each other in the eastern Mediterranean while the leaders from the two countries engaged in angry rhetoric. The armed forces of Greece and Turkey have also conducted exercises in the seas between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.
The standoff was sparked when Turkey sent its research vessel, Oruc Reis, accompanied by warships to search for gas and oil reserves. The Turkish government said Monday it was extending the drilling mission by another 10 days, until Sept. 12.
Greece responded by issuing a counter-notice, asking mariners to disregard Turkey’s advisory about the extension of search activities in the area.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has threatened Greece with military action, described Turkey’s activities in the eastern Mediterranean as the “pursuit of (its) rights and justice” and denounced what he said were Greek efforts to “imprison” Turkey to a small region surrounding its coast.
“Efforts to descend on the riches of the Mediterranean, which are the rights of every country around it, is an example of modern-day colonialism,” Erdogan said.
He also accused some nations he did not name of pushing Greece into a confrontation with Turkey.
Greece, a member of the European Union, claims the waters are part of its continental shelf and has enlisted the support of the 27-nation bloc, which has condemned what it calls Turkey’s “illegal activities” and plans to blacklist Turkish officials linked to energy exploration.
Turkey disputes Greece’s claims that waters where it’s searching for hydrocarbons are part of Greece’s continental shelf, insisting that Greek islands near Turkey’s coast cannot be taken into account when delineating maritime boundaries. Ankara accuses Athens of trying to grab an unfair share of the eastern Mediterranean’s resources.
On Tuesday, the European Union said it was “very clear” with its message to Turkey that it needs to deescalate regional tensions or face sanctions.
In Cyprus, President Nicos Anastasiades spoke by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss developments in the eastern Mediterranean. A Cypriot government statement said Pompeo reiterated Washington’s support for the sovereign rights of both Cyprus and Greece and underscored the need to focus on dialogue based on international law.
Pompeo also said the U.S. has partially lift a 33-year-old arms embargo against Cyprus, enabling the island nation to procure non-lethal equipment to buttress regional stability.
On Monday, Greece voiced hope that the threat of EU sanctions would persuade Turkey to stop its offshore energy prospecting.
“It is in Turkey’s interest above all, with its economy shaken and so many open fronts, to realize that right now Europe is offering it a way out … (allowing) the peaceful settling of our differences to define maritime zones between the two countries,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said.
Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.