Greece: Threat of EU sanctions offers Turkey 'exit strategy'

In this photo provided by the Greek Defense Ministry, warships take part in a military exercise in Eastern Mediterranean sea, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. Turkey is accusing France of stoking tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, where NATO allies Turkey and Greece are locked in a stiff standoff over competing claims over offshore energy exploration rights. The accusation came as European Union foreign ministers are set to meet on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020 to persuade the two to pull back from the brink of a conflict. (Greek Defense Ministry via AP)
In this photo provided by the Greek Defense Ministry, warships take part in a military exercise in Eastern Mediterranean sea, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. Turkey is accusing France of stoking tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, where NATO allies Turkey and Greece are locked in a stiff standoff over competing claims over offshore energy exploration rights. The accusation came as European Union foreign ministers are set to meet on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020 to persuade the two to pull back from the brink of a conflict. (Greek Defense Ministry via AP)

ANKARA – Greece voiced hope Monday that the threat of sanctions from its European Union partners would convince Turkey to stop its offshore energy prospecting in contested eastern Mediterranean waters, which has plunged the two regional rivals into their worst crisis since 1974.

But Ankara later said it was extending its oil and gas exploration mission for another 10 days.

Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told state ERT TV that Turkey faces a “clear” message: “Either act to de-escalate (the situation) or face sanctions.”

The EU on Friday urged Turkey to halt what it called its “illegal” prospecting activities. It said plans to blacklist Turkish officials linked to the energy exploration could be extended, which could possibly include economic sanctions against Turkey.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday spoke on the phone to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to brief him on the outcome of Friday's EU foreign ministers' meeting, including measures the 27-nation bloc is prepared to take..

Petsas said the threat of sanctions gave Turkey an “exit strategy” from the evolving crisis. Over the past few weeks, the two nominal NATO allies' warships and warplanes have been milling around each other aggressively between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, amid high rhetoric from both Athens and Ankara — which has repeatedly threatened Greece with military action.

"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," Petsas said.

Greece says the Turkish prospecting for potential offshore gas and oil overlaps part of its continental shelf. Ankara says it has every right to send its research vessel there, escorted by warships.