ATHENS – Ratcheting up the tension another notch, Turkey’s Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said energy ships would be sent off the Greek island of Kastellorizo – almost within sight of Turkey – to drill for oil and gas.
He said that was part of a deal made with Libya dividing the seas between them, an agreement blasted by Greece and the European Union, that Turkey said would also lead to drilling for energy off Crete and as it claims waters around other Greek islands, including Rhodes.
“Because of our agreement with the official government of Libya, we will continue with seismic research and drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean but also in areas we agreed on with Libya,” he said, reported Kathimerini.
“On this issue, I must stress that we are determined,” he said, following a Cabinet meeting led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had earlier said the drilling would begin off Greek islands, citing the Libya deal.
That followed similar comments from other Turkish officials, including Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Energy Minister Fatih Donmez, awaiting wha he hoped would be ratification by the United Nations, Turkey pressing for a new map of waters it produced to be recognized.
Deputy Defense Minister Alkiviadis Stefanis said earlier that Greece is continuing to keep communication lines open but noted that the Hellenic Armed Forces are on standby amid fears a conflict could break out.
“Diplomacy is the first choice,” he told SKAI Radio. “We have open channels of communication but the armed forces are ready to do what is necessary in coordination with the Foreign Ministry,” he added.
That came after Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos denied media reports quoting him as disputing claims by Erdogan that Greece and Turkey had come to an agreement not to “move” on the Imia islets that brought the two countries close to war in 1996.
Earlier reports alleged Panagiotopoulos rejected claims by Erdogan that he sent a message to Greece through Defense Minister Hulusi Akar not to make any “move” over Imia. The Greek Defense Ministry said Panagiotopoulos “never made such a statement” and the claims were “the interpretations and assessments of those who express them.”
Turkey also issued a new navigational telex (NAVTEX) reserving waters for military naval exercises east and south of Rhodes, Karpathos and Crete that corresponds with the areas that Turkey and Liyba said belong to them, not to Greece.