EU urges Turkey to 'deescalate' energy dispute with Greece

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This photo provided Friday Aug.14, 2020 by the French Defense Ministry shows the French Tonnerre helicopter carrier, center, escorted by Greek and French military vessels during a maritime exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. Greece's prime minister warmly thanked France Thursday for boosting its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean, where Greek and Turkish warships are closely shadowing each other over a Turkish energy exploration bid in waters Athens claims as its own. (French Defense Ministry via AP)

ATHENS – The European Union's foreign policy chief expressed “full solidarity” with Greece and Cyprus and urged a “immediate deescalation” by Turkey after EU foreign ministers held urgent talks Friday on high military tensions over offshore drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

For the past five days, the Greek and Turkish navies have been engaged in a game of brinkmanship in waters between the Greek island of Crete, Cyprus and Turkey over offshore drilling rights. That followed Ankara's deployment of a seismic research vessel to prospect for potential oil and gas reserves in waters that Athens claims are located over Greece's continental shelf.

Cyprus and Greece are EU members, while Turkey is not. Josep Borrell, the 27-nation bloc's foreign policy chief, tweeted after the end of the talks: “Eastern Med: Full solidarity (with) Greece&Cyprus. Calling for immediate deescalation by Turkey and reengaging in dialogue.”

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, who also met in Vienna with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said he was “pleased” with the solidarity expressed by his country's EU partners and their “condemnation of Turkey's illegal behavior.”

“Turkey is the only (party) responsible for the escalation of tension in the eastern Mediterranean, and it must immediately leave the Greek continental shelf,” Dendias said after Friday's talks. “That is a necessary precondition for deescalation.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would press ahead with its prospecting until Aug. 23 as planned. But following a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he signaled that Ankara and Berlin had agreed to a “softening” of positions after that date.

There was no indication from Athens whether it had been consulted, or had agreed, on the matter. Merkel had interceded to defuse a similar face-off between Greece and Turkey a few weeks ago.

Erdogan also warned that Turkey would strongly respond to any “harassment” of its vessels by Greece.