ATHENS – While Greece wanted hard European Union sanctions against Turkey for planning to hunt for energy off Greek islands as it's already drilling off Crete,
Germany – which blocked penalties – continued to call for dialogue.
That effort appeared doomed after Turkey accused German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who practiced shuttle diplomacy in visits to Athens and Ankara, of siding with Greece as tension ratcheted up again.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country wants discussions it would on its terms and “will do whatever is necessary without hesitation” to support its claims to parts of Greece's Continental Shelf, said Kathimerini.
That was under a maritime deal with Libya, dividing the seas between them, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sending the energy research vessel Oruc Reis and 10 warships near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
Greece has responded with its Navy, the two countries forces keeping a wary eye on each other as Germany tried to broker a deal to bring calm to the seas and prevent a conflict from breaking out.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel Angela Merkel earlier convinced Erdogan to pull back his ships but he sent them in again after Greece, countering the Turkey-Libya deal no other country recognizes, signed an agreement with Egypt setting sea boundaries and demarcating Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ's.)
“The windows for dialogue between Greece and Turkey must now be opened further and not closed,” Maas said in an emailed statement before meeting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Athens.
“Instead of new provocations, we finally need steps toward an easing of tensions and to initiate direct discussions,” Bloomberg reported Maas as saying as he headed to the two countries, before his mission seemed scuppered by Turkey.
Maas’ visit came ahead of a second European Union foreign ministers meeting after the first saw Germany throw up a roadblock to Greece's demands for the EU to take a tougher line, Merkel apparently anxious that Erdogan would unleash more refugees and migrants on the bloc through Greek islands.
“Greece’s voice will have special weight,” Maas said of the discussion, a line that appeared to irritate Turkey, which accused him of leaning toward fellow EU member Greece, Turkey failing for 15 years so far in its bid to join the bloc.
Maas also said that Turkey must de-escalate the tension in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean or face EU sanctions although the bloc's leaders, not willing to tangle with Erdogan, exempted him from penalties put on officials of Turkey's state-run petroleum company for drilling off Cyprus, which didn't work.
WALKING THE LINE
Cavusoglu later retorted that Turkey will defend its rights after accusing Greece of not obeying the United Nations Law of the Sea – which Turkey doesn't recognize – warning Greece to “endanger” itself in seeking foreign allies.
He insisted Turkey wants a dialogue, the paper reported, but said that Greece cannot set the conditions, while also making reference to Greece’s Muslim community in Thrace.
“If Greece respects international law so much, why does it not allow Turks in Western Thrace to use the name ‘Turk,’ despite the rulings of the EU Court of Human Rights,” he said, diverting attention from the flap in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, and as Turkish media said Germany was biased.
In an interview with the major Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin repeated objections to the Greece-Eypt deal which led
Erdogan to cancel scheduled talks in Ankara with Greek officials.
He also said that Greece and Turkey should resolve the issues “on their own” but wanted talks expanded to Turkey's demand for rights for the Turkish minority in northern Greece near the border.
Kalin also said that “from time to time Greece raises maximalist demands” but didn't say what they were after Turkey earlier offered more discussions based on Greece making concessions, leading Mitsotakis to say there wouldn't be negotiations at gunpoint or blackmail.
Maas suggested while in Athens there has to be an end to military mobilizations in the East Mediterranean, indicating that Greece has to pull back from its own waters where Turkish ships are being shadowed.
Greece wants the European Commission to present “different options” on how Turkey can be sanctioned for violating Greek and Cypriot sovereign rights in the Eastern Mediterranean beyond punishing oil company officials, Deputy Foreign Minister Militiadis Varvitsiotis told Politico.
“We are saying two things: what we witness is not the fault of a person or a company, it is the outcome of the behavior of a state. Sanctions should be directed at the state, and what we expect from Mr. Borrell is to present different options on how these sanctions may be exercised,” the Greek official told Politico’s Playbook, referring to the Europe Union’s High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, who has taken a soft line on Turkey.
Varvitsiotis said, “There is the need to sign with Turkey first of all an agreement that we are ready to address this matter to the International Court of Justice.
“The other thing to get there is to lift all the military tension in the region, which is counterproductive because you cannot negotiate under the threat of the use of arms,” Varvitsiotis added.