Turkey extends East Med exploration, Greece announces arms purchases
ANKARA – Turkey has extended until mid-September the duration of its controversial natural gas exploration activities in east Mediterranean waters while Greece has announced it is in talks with France and other countries over new arms purchases.
Ankara had deployed the Oruc Reis research vessel and warships to the disputed waters on August 10 and prolonged the mission twice, raising tensions with Greece and the rest of the EU.
In a message on NAVTEX, the international maritime navigational telex system, Turkey said late Monday the mission would now be extended until September 12.
Hours earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech that the Oruc Reis was “continuing its activities with determination.”
“God willing, we hope to get good news from the Mediterranean in a short span of time, too, as we got in the Black Sea,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan was referring to Turkey’s proclaimed discovery of what officials said were 320-billion-cubic-metres of natural gas in the Black Sea, the biggest in Turkey’s history.
Ankara’s relations with Athens have deteriorated sharply in recent weeks, with strains over issues including migration and Turkey’s decision to convert Byzantine-era churches into mosques.
The European Union has called for dialogue between Ankara and Athens. It has also urged Turkey to stop the exploration activities and threatened to slap sanctions on Ankara if it refused to solve the dispute through talks.
“We will never succumb to piracy or banditry in the Mediterranean and the Aegean,” Erdogan threatened.
Amid rising tensions, Greece announced Tuesday it is in talks with France and other countries over arms purchases to boost its armed forces.
“We are in talks with France, and not only with France, in order to increase our country’s defence potential,” a government official told Reuters. “Within this framework, there is a discussion which includes the purchase of aircraft.”
The official added that no final decisions had been made. Greek media reported on Monday that Athens had agreed to acquire 18 Dassault-made Rafale fighter jets from France.
“There is no agreement as written in several media. However, there are discussions on a number of subjects,” a French government source said, without providing further details.
Greece’s finance minister said Monday the country is ready to spend part of its cash reserves on arms purchases and other means which will help increase its “deterrence force”, after years of belt-tightening in defence spending.
Greece has been at odds with neighbouring Turkey over a range of issues including overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in the region, based on conflicting claims over the extent of their continental shelves.
France and Germany have tried to mediate to defuse the tension, while Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis held two calls with US President Donald Trump last week.
Greece’s foreign ministry called the advisory illegal and urged Turkey “to desist from its daily rants and to work for security and stability in the region.”
Both sides have held military exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean, highlighting the potential for the dispute over the extent of their continental shelves to escalate.
Source: Arab Weekly