BERLIN — German Chancellor said Greece and Turkey were at the point of war over Turkish provocations in the seas around Greek islands when she stepped in and convinced Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to pull back his ships.
That was in late summer after he had sent the energy research vessel the Oruc Reis and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, leading Greece to send part of its fleet to shadow their adversaries.
Tensions ran high to near-conflict points, especially after two Greek and Turkish warships collided, bringing worries the shooting would start over Turkey's intent to drill for oil and gas near or in Greek waters.
Merkel said she persuaded Erdogan to withdraw and try diplomacy and he scheduled talks in Ankara with Greek officials only to scuttle them when Greece made a maritime deal with Egypt to counter an agreement Turkey had with Libya dividing the seas and claiming Greek waters.
“It’s hard to imagine how small the distance between military conflict and peaceful settlement can get in some cases,” Merkel told a session of the German Lower House of Parliament Bundestag.
“Tensions with Greece and the Greek- Cypriot side are high, yet Turkey is a NATO partner. And it shows remarkable efforts in hosting refugees,” Merkel said, while criticizing Greece over its handling of a refugee crisis.
“We should balance our relations carefully and focus on cooperation,” she said, describing relations with Turkey as “multidimensional,” without mentioning Germany is home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage.
Erdogan then sent the ships back only to take them out again after Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis pushed the European Union for hard sanctions.
Facing that, Erdogan offered negotiations again over who has rights in parts of the East Mediterranean and Aegean, the date not yet set, but the move effectively blocking EU leaders in a meeting with Turkey Oct. 1-2 from considering sanctions that Merkel moved to block.