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Politics

German Minister in Athens, Focused on East Med Tension

ATHENS (AP) — German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged Turkey Tuesday to fully engage in planned talks with the European Union and avoid “provocative actions” in the Eastern Mediterranean in an effort to head off a potential crisis with neighboring Greece.

NATO allies Greece and Turkey are at odds over drilling rights in the region, with the EU and the United States increasingly critical of Ankara's plans to expand exploration and drilling operations in the coming weeks into areas Athens claims as its own.

"We have a very clear position: international law must be respected. Therefore, progress in relations with Turkey can only be achieved if Ankara avoids provocations in the eastern Mediterranean,″ Maas said after talks in Athens.

″At the same time, within the European Union we see the need to engage in dialogue with Turkey.″

Maas, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, was meeting in Athens with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, as well as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

Greece is hoping Germany will use its influence with Turkey to press for progress in negotiations.

Earlier this month, Germany hosted unannounced talks with Greek and Turkish officials to try and restart discussions.

Turkey has accused Greece of trying to exclude it from the benefits of oil and gas finds in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, arguing that sea boundaries for commercial exploitation should be divided between the Greek and Turkish mainland and not include the Greek islands on an equal basis. Athens rejects the argument as being in clear violation of international law.

Greece is pressing other EU member states to prepare "crippling sanctions″ against Turkey if it proceeds with its oil-and-gas exploration plans which are expected to start in September, according to Turkey’s state-run oil company, TPAO.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell last week said he would launch an initiative to engage Turkey in talks, citing "worrying developments″ in the Eastern Mediterranean and the civil war in Libya.

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By DEREK GATOPOULOS and KIRSTEN GRIESHABER Associated Press

Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Iliana Mier in Athens contributed.

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