ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey vowed Tuesday to press ahead with searching for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, saying it plans to issue new exploration licenses for the area despite an escalating dispute with Greece over drilling rights.
Greece’s foreign minister, meanwhile, called for an emergency meeting of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council “on the subject of the growing Turkish provocation and delinquency.”
Tension has increased between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, both of which have warships shadowing a Turkish research vessel that was sent to carry out seismic research for energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean in an area Greece says is on its continental shelf.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias called on Turkey “to immediately withdraw from the Greek continental shelf,” saying that “we make clear that Greece will defend its sovereignty and its sovereign rights.”
Dendias said he had called for the EU’s foreign ministers to meet “at a time when there is a clear Turkish threat to peace and security in the eastern Mediterranean, Greece and Cyprus.”
Earlier Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey planned to conduct search operations “on the western edges” of Turkey’s continental shelf. He said the work would be done on behalf of both Turkey and Turks in ethnically divided Cyprus, which also has objected to Ankara’s exploration activities.
“We are fully determined to continue our seismic research and drilling efforts,” Cavusoglu said during a joint news conference with his visiting Azerbaijani counterpart. “We will defend to the end the rights of Turkey and of Turkish Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Cyprus, and we will make no concessions.”
The Turkish government announced on Monday that its research vessel Oruc Reis and two support vessels would be operating in the Mediterranean Sea between Cyprus and Greece until Aug. 23. The vessel arrived in the area Monday morning, escorted by Turkish warships.
Greece slammed the decision as an illegal act that infringed on its sovereign rights, saying the Turkish research vessel was inside an area covered by the Greek continental shelf. Greek warships were in the area monitoring the Oruc Reis, and the military was on alert, officials said.
In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said member states would consult about the Greek request for an extraordinary meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers.
“We agree that the situation in the eastern Mediterranean is extremely worrying and needs to be solved in dialogue and not in a series and sequence of steps that are increasing the escalation and the tension,” Stano said.
Omer Celik, the spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling party, criticized Athens for calling on the EU.
“As usual, Greece has called the European Union to a meeting to support its unfair, unlawful and aggressive policies,” Celik said on Twitter. “The European Union should not allow Greece to turn the whole of Europe into a ‘Greek theater,’” he said on Twitter.
Greece and Turkey have traditionally had testy relations and have been at odds for decades over a wide variety of issues. The two have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s, including once over drilling exploration rights in the Aegean Sea that separates the two countries. Recent discoveries of natural gas and drilling plans across the east Mediterranean have led to renewed tension.
Cavusoglu said Turkey last month had agreed to halt its search efforts in the region “as a gesture” following the intercession of the EU and Germany but that Greece did not respond “in a positive way.”
“No one can accuse Turkey of not displaying goodwill, but on the opposite side, there is a country with bad intentions. If they are to blame anyone, they must blame Greece,” Cavusoglu said.
Ankara was angered by a deal Greece signed with Egypt on Thursday delineating their bilateral maritime boundaries and exclusive economic zones for rights to the exploitation of resources.
Last year, Turkey signed a similar deal with the U.N.-backed Libyan government in Tripoli, sparking outrage in Greece, Egypt and Cyprus, which said the agreement infringed on their economic rights in the Mediterranean. The EU said the deal was a violation of international law that threatened regional stability.
At the heart of the issue is how a country’s continental shelf is calculated and whether islands should be included in the calculation. Turkey argues they should not, a position that Greece says violates international law.
Becatoros reported from Athens, Greece