Erdogan says willing to meet with Greek PM over east Med tensions

Istanbul (AFP) –


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkey was ready to meet with Greece to resolve its standoff over energy exploration in contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean.

The search for gas and oil in the region has sparked a row that has seen the two NATO neighbours stage rival air and navy drills in strategic waters between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.

"Could there be a meeting with Greek Prime Minister (Kyriakos) Mitsotakis? What's essential is what we discuss and in what framework," Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul after Friday prayers.

"We can meet if there is goodwill. We can talk via videoconference or meet in a third country," Erdogan said, adding that Turkey would not be the party fleeing the table.

At the centre of the row was Turkey's deployment last month of a seismic research vessel, the Oruc Reis, and an accompanying fleet of warships in disputed waters near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

Turkish officials ended the month-long mission and ordered the vessel back to shore last weekend for maintanance and replenishment.

Erdogan also signalled that Oruc Reis would return to its work, while also saying that its withdrawal was deliberate.

"If we pulled Oruc Reis back to the port for maintenance, it has a meaning," he said. "It means 'let's give a chance to diplomacy, let's show a positive approach'."

Turkey's Yavuz drillship, meanwhile, will continue it search for oil and gas off Cyprus until October 12 despite international calls to withdraw.

Ankara's dispute with Athens has sparked a crisis that has drawn in some EU member states, particularly France which sent vessels and fighter jets to the region in support of Greece.

EU leaders are due to discuss possible sanctions against Ankara at their meeting on September 24-25.