Turkey sends Oruç Reis back to east Med

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Turkey has dispatched the Oruç Reis research vessel back to the eastern Mediterranean after a new NAVTEX for a 10-day mandate amid expectations for the resumption of Turkey-Greek exploratory talks aiming at defusing months-long tension.

“The maintenance works of our Oruç Reis seismic research vessel have been completed. Our vessel has weighed anchor for x-raying the Mediterranean. We will continue to search, dig and protect our rights,” Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez said on Twitter on Oct. 13.

“If there is [resource], we will absolutely find it,” he said.

The vessel will carry out seismic studies south of the Meis Island (Kastellorizo) together with two other vessels, the Ataman and Cengiz Han, until Oct. 22, according to the NAVTEX.

Turkey had withdrawn the Oruç Reis from the region in mid-September in a move to pledge space for the diplomatic mediation by EU term president Germany between Turkey and Greece. The two countries have set a 24/7 mechanism at the NATO in a bid to avoid accidents and conflicts and have agreed to resume the exploratory talks stalled in 2016.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias held their first meeting since the tension started in July to discuss the modalities and the date of the exploratory talks, which will take place in Istanbul. The Greek officials said they were waiting for Turkey to propose a date for the talks.

Turkey and Greece are in a long standoff over the overlapping continental shelf claims as the former denies the Greek claims that the Meis Island generates a 40,000-square-kilometers continental shelf. Turkey says that the 10-square-kilometers island, which is 580 kilometers away from the Greek mainland and only 2 kilometers from the Turkish coasts, has only territorial waters and no continental shelf.

Greece slams Turkey

Turkey’s NAVTEX has angered Greece, which described the move “as a major escalation and direct threat to peace and security in the region.”

“Just a few days after the meeting between the ministers of Foreign Affairs of Greece and Turkey during which the Turkish side committed to proposing a date for the exploratory talks, Turkey’s unreliability and the fact that it does not sincerely desire dialogue have once again become evident,” it claimed.

Akar: Turkey is not threatening

In reaction to the Greek statement, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stressed that Turkey has maritime jurisdiction areas in both Mediterranean and Aegean recognized by the U.N. and that its seismic works are not posing threats to anybody.

“We are conducting only seismic works here. It is not a threat to anybody. Our neighbors should refrain from provocations. They are doing for escalating the tension,” Akar said, reiterating that the Turkish navy will escort the Oruç reis and other civilian vessels should they need security.

Maas is expected to pay a visit to the region

The new tension comes just a day before German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’s scheduled visit to Greece, Greek Cyprus and Turkey as part of Berlin’s mediation efforts between the sparring sides. Maas is expected to be in Athens and Nicosia on Oct. 12 and in Ankara on Oct. 13.

Germany has been exerting efforts to de-escalate the tension in the region through an intensive diplomacy between Ankara and Athens as well as within the EU. A recent EU Council meeting has proposed to launch a positive agenda with Turkey in case it would engage for a diplomatic resolution of the problem. It implied sanctions against Turkey if it prolongs the conflict.

Hurriyet Daily News

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