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No Greece Talks With Turkey Unless Energy Hunt Vessel Withdraws

Αssociated Press

(Turkish Defense Ministry via AP, Pool)

Greece's New Democracy, which withdrew demands for European Union sanctions over Turkish plans to drill for energy off Greek islands to give diplomacy a chance, now won't talk unless Turkey pulls an energy research vessel away from Kastellorizo.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas told SKAI radio there won't be any exploratory talks – set for Ankara, not Athens – as long as the Oruc Reis remains in Greece's Continental Shelf.

There weren't any reports the vessel was being escorted by warships as it had been twice previously, withdrawing the first time after an entreaty from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a second when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he favored talks instead of the countries pointing guns.

But he sent the ship back in again, snubbing his nose at Greece and the EU, which had said sanctions would be back on the table unless there was a resolution to the seas dispute by the end f the year.

"As long as the Oruc Reis is in the area we will not hold exploratory contacts with Turkey," Petsas said, after the government had condemned Erdogan's move at the same time he was offering peace talks.

The Greek government said Turkey's decision to send the vessel close to Kastellorizo, near the Turkish coast, was a "major escalation" and a "direct threat to peace in the region."

Greece's state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA) said the vessel was nearing the island the morning of Oct. 13, setting off a scramble by Greek and European Union officials about how to stop it.

Turkey disputes Greece's Continental Shelf and, under a maritime deal with Libya no other country recognizes – claimed waters off Greek islands, including Crete, and Erdogan said drilling will proceed under any circumstances.

Violating rules of the sea, the Oruc Reis reportedly turned off its global positioning system in an apparent attempt not to be tracked and as Greek and EU officials were firing off a fusillade of protests.

Erdogan, who had pulled the ship away from Kastellorizo, along with warships he sent as escorts, has shown a scunner to Greece and the EU even as he said the resolution should be diplomatic and political while also still threatening a conflict.