As Greece and Turkey plan rival military maneuvers off the Greek island of Kastellorizo where Turkey wants to hunt for energy, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was headed to both countries to try to ratchet down the tension.
German Chancellor earlier convinced Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to pull back his ships from the region but after Greece made a deal with Egypt setting seas boundaries he sent back an energy research vessel and 10 warships.
The Greek and Turkish navies have been stuck in a circling stalemate there with worries there could be a conflict in the Aegean or the East Mediterranean, where Turkey is already drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus, and wants to do the same off Greek islands, including Crete.
Maas wants to try to reopen lines of communication between the countries that were shut off as Turkey earlier made an agreement with Libya, dividing the seas between them and claiming parts of Greece's Continental Shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) while refusing to recognize the United Nations Law of the Sea unless invoking provisions to Turkey's advantage.
In Athens, Maas will be meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the head of the major opposition and former ruling Radical Left, Alexis Tsipras.
The German official will then go to Ankara for talks there after Erdogan pulled the plug on planned discussions after the Greece-Egypt deal sent him into a tither, now saying that Greece is “showing chaos” and that, “from now on, Greece will be responsible for all conflicts in the region.”
Erdogan’s comments came in response to Greece’s planned aeronautical exercises in areas included in a navigational advisory, or NAVTEX issued by Turkey extending the duration of seismic surveys by its Oruc Reis research vessel within the Greek continental shelf.
Turkey sent out an official warning to other vessels to avoid the area, said the BBC in its report about an inflammatory situation in the seas that has the European Union worried, but not enough to sanction Turkey.
Turkey and Greece belong to NATO but the defense alliance's chief, Jens Stoltenberg, said he wants no part of their duel and won't intervene to try to stop Turkey sending fighter jets and warships into Greece airspace and waters.
"Greece is responding calmly and with readiness both on a diplomatic and on an operational level. And with national confidence it does everything needed to defend its sovereign rights," Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said.
With France siding with Greece and the United States siding with both countries and backing Turkey's claim the waters are “disputed,” Greece has tried to build an international alliance against Turkey and got the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to send F-16 fighter jets to Crete for joint training.
Greece's navy and air force will conduct military exercises beginning Tuesday in the eastern Mediterranean near a contested area where Turkey is prospecting for oil and gas, authorities said, drawing an angry response from Turkey.
Erdogan accused Greece of endangering navigational safety with the exercises although Turkey wants to do the same without any reaction.
He said in a TV address that Greece's plan to conduct military exercises there is “a spoiled act that endangers the coastal and navigational safety of all ships in the region, As of now, Greece will be the only one responsible for any negative development in the region.”
Greece said the tensions led to a minor collision earlier this month between a Greek frigate and a Turkish frigate, in which nobody was injured and Erdogan said he won't back down.
“Turkey will not take the slightest step back concerning the operations of the Orus Reis nor (concerning) our (naval) fleet," he said. "On the contrary, Turkey will act with more determination concerning the protection of its rights, and (of) laws in the region.”
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger told reporters in Berlin that, “From our standpoint, direct dialogue and steps from both sides to deescalate the situation are needed to find a solution to (reduce) tensions. We have a big concern that these tensions … could have even more grave consequences.”
Germany, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, is among EU nations refusing to back Mitsotakis' call for tougher sanctions on Turkey, fearful that Erdogan will send more refugees and migrants into the bloc through Greek islands.
EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean at an informal meeting in Berlin but no penalties are planned for Turkey, seeming to further embolden Erdogan.
(Material from The Associated Press was used in this report)