Alternating between offering diplomacy and sending gunships, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he won't back down in the Aegean and East Mediterranean and forge ahead with plans to hunt for energy in Greek waters.
That came as European Union foreign chiefs wouldn't accept Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' call for tough sanctions, with Germany – which had intervened to stop a possible conflict – refusing to back stronger measures.
Erdogan stepped up his rhetoric after first pulling his ships away from the island of Kastellorizo at the request of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and sending them back in after Greece signed a deal with Egypt setting seas boundaries.
That was in response to Turkey having made an agreement with Libya dividing the seas between them and claiming parts of Greece's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf.
"We will never bow to banditry on our continental shelf. We will not back down against the language of sanctions and threats," Erdogan said with the energy research vessel the Oruc Reis and warships heading toward Greek waters, where he said seismic activity will be done to look for oil and gas, ending Aug. 23.
Erdogan warned that Turkey would strongly respond to any “harassment” of its vessels by Greece after saying it had already citing an incident he wouldn't clarify but said to be a small collision between Greek and Turkish warships.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias travelled to Vienna on Friday to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and said he hoped for a resolution but that the question had to be “put to the Turks,” Euronews reported.
The State Department said Pompeo and Dendias discussed “the urgent need to reduce tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean,” veiled diplomatic platitudes to not reveal what was really discussed in depth.
Pompeo is to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in the Dominican Republic on Aug. 16, CNN quoted Acting Assistant Secretary of State Michael Kozak as saying.
Dendias blamed Turkey for provocations and pressing ahead with drilling plans as Greece put its military on alert and warned there would be a response if tht happened and the waters were violated.
He said sanctions are being prepared but wouldn't say what they were but that they won't be discussed until the next meeting of the bloc's 27 foreign ministers until a session in Berlin the end of August.
“Greece is a peaceful country, resolving any issues through dialogue and based on international law," he added, noting that recent agreements with Italy and Egypt prove it and that Greece would be open to dialogue but not at gunpoint.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said ahead of the talks that “the provocations" that are happening in the eastern Mediterranean “can’t continue,” but then didn't explain why Germany wouldn't go along with sanctions on Turkey and Erdogan.
“Nor can the Turkish drilling," he said. "We are working toward a direct dialogue between the parties that would contribute to finding a solution for this issue,” Maas added that there should be no drilling during any negotiations but Erdogan has shown he doesn't care one whit what the EU or anyone thinks.
So far, only France has responded, pledging to boost its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean and sending two warships to the area for joint drills with the Greek Navy after sending two fighter jets to Crete where Turkey is drilling offshore in defiance of soft EU sanctions.
Greek wanted a hard EU line to end Tujrkey's exploratory activities in the East Mediterranean, said Kathimerini, and support for the deal signed with Egypt setting EEZ's for the countries.
But the German side rejected it, apparently peeved over the Greece-Egypt deal that led to Erdogan scuttling planned negotiations with sessions in Ankara between officials of the countries.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, expressed on Twitter “full solidarity” with Greece and Cyprus and called on Turkey “for immediate de-escalation and reengaging in dialogue,” repeating futile and failed pleas.
The paper said, citing sources not named, there there was discussion on a possible statement from Borrell’s office about examining the possibility of a moratorium on research activities in what Turkey and the United States call “disputed waters,” undercutting Greece's claims over the seas.