Geo Politics

France to ‘reinforce’ military presence in eastern Mediterranean

Move comes as Greece-Turkey tensions rise after Ankara sends ship to prospect for oil and gas in disputed waters.

Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis sails in the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey [File: Yoruk Isik/ Reuters]
Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis sails in the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey .

Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, has urged Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean and pledged to “temporarily reinforce” French military presence in the area.

In a statement on Wednesday, Macron’s office said the French leader voiced concern over “unilateral” exploration by Turkey in a call with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

It added that prospecting should “cease in order to allow a peaceful dialogue” between the neighbouring NATO members.

The standoff deepened this week when Ankara dispatched the research ship Oruc Reis accompanied by Turkish naval vessels off the Greek island of Kastellorizo in the eastern Mediterranean.

Greece also deployed warships to monitor the vessel, which is currently sailing west of Cyprus.

The incident is the latest spat over energy exploration in the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean, a frequent source of disputes between Turkey and neighbours including Greece, Cyprus and Israel.

In his statement, Macron said France will increase its military presence to “monitor the situation in the region and mark its determination to uphold international law”.

‘Risk of accident’

The French leader called last month for EU sanctions against Turkey for what he described as “violations” of Greek and Cypriot sovereignty over their territorial waters.

Relations between Paris and Ankara have also frayed over the conflict in Libya.

Meanwhile, Mitsotakis urged Turkey to show “sense”, warning that the showdown in the eastern Mediterranean could lead to a military accident.

“We are vigilantly looking forward to sense prevailing, at last, in our neighbouring country, so that dialogue may be re-initiated in good faith,” Mitsotakis said in a statement.

“The risk of an accident lurks when so many military assets are gathered in such a contained area.”

The Greek PM said Athens would not seek to escalate the situation, but added: “No provocation will though go unanswered.”

Athens has demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Oruc Reis from what it regards as its continental shelf, and has asked for an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers on the issue.

EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell said foreign ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting on Friday to discuss the eastern Mediterranean, Lebanon and Belarus.

Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was due to fly to Israel on Thursday for talks, his office said.

Dendias is also to address the issue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Vienna on Friday.

A similar crisis last month was averted after Turkey pulled the Oruc Reis back to hold talks with Greece and rotating EU chair Germany.

But the mood soured last week after Greece and Egypt signed an agreement to set up an exclusive economic zone in the region.

The Turkish foreign ministry has said the Greece-Egypt agreement was “null and void”.

Egypt, Cyprus and Greece have likewise denounced a contentious deal, including a security agreement, signed last year between Ankara and the UN-recognized government in Libya.

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