Turkey open to talk but determined, Erdogan tells Merkel

By: AFP      Published: 12:58 AM, 17 Sep, 2020
Turkey open to talk but determined, Erdogan tells Merkel
–File photo

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday that Ankara was open to "constructive" talks but would remain determined in its eastern Mediterranean standoff with Greece.

The videoconference call between the two leaders came ahead of an EU summit next week at which the bloc will discuss imposing sanctions on Turkey over its search for energy in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece.

Germany has taken the lead in trying to mediate an end to a conflict that has seen the two NATO neighbours stage rival air and sea drills in strategic waters between Cyprus and Crete.

The Turkish presidency said Erdogan told Merkel that the dispute "could be resolved through negotiations... provided that a constructive approach, based on fairness, prevails".

Erdogan "underscored that he will continue to implement a decisive and active policy with regard to Turkey’s rights," his office said.

Turkey believes that the EU unfairly backs Greece in a maritime dispute that stretches back decades but which gained added importance with the discovery of large natural gas deposits in recent years.

The standoff appeared to be cooling off when Turkey's Oruc Reis research vessel and its accompanying fleet of warships ended their month-long mission near a Greek island and pulled back to shore last weekend.

But Turkey stressed that the vessel was only undergoing planned maintenance and would soon continue its exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The Turkish navy on Tuesday also announced the extension of the Yavuz drillship's stay in disputed waters near Cyprus until October 12.

On Wednesday the EU urged Turkey to remove the Yavuz from the area in the way that it had moved the Oruc Reis

"The recent withdrawal of the research vessel Oruc Reis is an important step paving the way for a meaningful dialogue between Greece and Turkey. The EU also calls for a similar decisions as concerns Cyprus," said a spokesperson for the bloc's diplomatic chief Josep Borrell.

"There is an opportunity to pursue immediate de-escalation, and resume dialogue and negotiations, which is the only path towards lasting solutions," he added.

The Turkish and Greek war games have drawn in EU powers and even the naval assets of the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

NATO is hosting periodic rounds of technical talks aimed at opening up channels of communication that could keep Greece and Turkey from accidentally going to war.

Their two navies' warships collided on August 12 in an incident that prompted Erdogan to warn Greece of a "heavy price" to pay were Turkish ships ever attacked.