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German Paper Says Merkel Intervention Staved Off Greek-Turkish War

Εθνικός Κήρυξ

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a media conference at the end of an EU summit in Brussels, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP)

ATHENS – Greece denied a report in the German newspaper Bild that Chancellor Angela Merkel played power broker in calls to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to prevent a war.

Greek armed forces were on high alert in the East Mediterranean after Turkey said it would send energy research vessels off the Greek islands of Kastellorizo, Rhodes and Karpathos, violating Greek waters.

With the naval forces of both countries on edge but standing down for now, Merkel jumped in, the German newspaper said, although it wasn't reported what she said to the Greek and Turkish leaders or if she did, indeed, keep the shooting from starting.

Turkey's NAVTEX on July 21 sparked alarm in Greece and reports that naval ships from both countries were preparing to patrol the area with the European Union, reluctant to confront Erdogan, saying his plans were "not helpful and sends the wrong message".

The BBC said that the Turkish survey ship, the Oruc Reis, was still reported to be at anchor in the Turkish port of Antalya as of July 22 as Greece condemned the NAVTEX as unlawful.

The situation “remained unchanged” in the sea region south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo, a source from the Hellenic National Defense General Staff (GEETHA) told the Greek newspaper Kathimerini.

The unidentified source said the movements of the Turkish navy were being monitored by the Greek Navy and Air Force which is also closely watching the Oruc Reis to see if it try to move into Greek waters.

Erdogan has apparently been emboldened by the EU's reluctance to play hardball with him, the bloc issuing only soft sanctions over Turkish ships drilling for oil and gas in Cypriot sovereign waters and EU leaders worried he would again try to send hordes of refugees and migrants through Greece's land borders and to Greek islands.

The military situation was tense after Turkey issued the reserving parts of Greek waters where its ships would be sent, Greece's New Democracy saying there would be a response if that happened.

Calling for calm, Merkel called Mitsotakis and then Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Kathimerini, but there was no word on whether the strongman Turkish leader listened as he has ignored other pleas to step back.

Mitsotakis also reached out to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the rising tension in the East Mediterranean and Erdogan converting the ancient Aghia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople into a mosque, Russia backing off its initial insistence for a “balanced decision” into implicit support for the change.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christopher Burger said that Berlin wants a “prudent dialogue,” while noting that “progress in EU-Turkey relations is only possible if Turkey abandons provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean,” which Erdogan has shown no signs of doing, displaying contempt for the EU.

Turkey showed no signs of retreating, issuing a statement that it will defend its rights and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, “as they arise under international law,” although Turkey doesn't recognize those laws unless invoking them in its favor.

Greece issued a counter-NAVTEX from the Iraklio station in Crete, saying  an “unauthorized station” has broadcast a NAVTEX message in the Greek Navtex service area “referring to unauthorized and illegal activity in an area that overlaps the Greek continental shelf.”