ANKARA -- Likely undercutting talks with Greece over sea boundaries even before they begin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said no matter the outcome that his country will go ahead with plans to drill for energy in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, near or in Greek waters.
Facing possible European Union sanctions otherwise, Erdogan withdrew the energy research vessel the Oruc Reis and warships from near the Greek island Kastellorizo to give diplomacy a chance, he said.
Backed by the United States, Turkey disputes parts of Greece's Continental Shelf although Washington said it supports Greece at the same time as it wants a bigger military presence in the country.
Talks are due at some point in Ankara – not Athens – to discuss maritime zones that Turkey expanded after making a deal with Libya dividing the seas between them and claiming waters around Greek islands, including Crete.
Responding to a question about his expansionist Blue Homeland doctrine Erdogan told Qatar’s The Peninsula newspaper in an interview that, “The issue of the Aegean and the Mediterranean is one that Turkey will never take a step back from.”
He added that, “We have voiced loudly on all platforms that we will not accept any solution that disregards Turkey and the TRNC and that confines us to the shores, and we will continue to do so. We will resolutely continue to protect and defend our rights and interests at all times and under all circumstances.”
TNRC is the term Turkey uses – The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – for the occupied northern third of Cyprus seized in an unlawful 1974 invasion but no other country in the world recognizes it.
Undeterred by soft EU sanctions and the bloc pushing back until the end of the year any talk about the same for his plans around Greek waters, after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for now withdrew his call for penalties, Turkey has been drilling off Cyprus and he said that will continue too.
“States disturbed by the presence of Turkey, in particular Greece, have adopted a stance that causes tension by taking unilateral actions. Behind the stance of France, known for its Colonialism, which provoked Greece, the Greek-Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus, and now Armenia, is the fact that Turkey has played an active role in the region,” Erdogan said.
That was in reference to Greece building an alliance against Turkish aggressions and provocations which saw France rally around Greece which now wants to buy French-made Rafale fighter jets to boost its arsenal in case diplomacy, which has failed so far, doesn't work.
Erdogan’s comments come as Greece and Turkey prepare to engage in exploratory talks and amid efforts by NATO to create a “deconfliction” mechanism to prevent a military crisis between the two neighbors, said the news agency Reuters.
Until the countries were on the brink of a conflict the defense alliance refused to intervene over Turkish violations of Greek waters and seas with warships and fighter jets but now has stepped in to try to keep the peace now.
“Those who saw our determination in the Eastern Mediterranean and realized that they cannot make our country step back with empty threats and blackmail have eventually paid heed to our calls for dialogue,” Erdogan also said.