France warns Turkey against redeploying research ship at heart of row with Greece

Turkey sent the Oruc Reis research vessel to disputed waters near a Greek island in August 2020.
Turkey sent the Oruc Reis research vessel to disputed waters near a Greek island in August 2020. © Handout Turkish Defence Ministry, AFP

Turkey announced plans late Sunday to send the research ship Oruc Reis to the eastern Mediterranean to carry out a seismic survey over the next 10 days, a step likely to revive tensions with NATO ally Greece.

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The Turkish navy said the Oruc Reis vessel would carry out activities in the region, including the south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo, from Monday until October 22 in a message sent to the maritime alert system NAVTEX.

France swiftly sought to de-escalate the situation, urging Turkey to act with caution.

"We expect Turkey to meet its commitments, abstain from new provocations and show concrete evidence of good faith," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnès Von der Mühll said.

Turkey and Greece were locked in a row over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean in August, which saw the two NATO neighbours stage rival air and navy drills in strategic waters between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.

Greece claims rights over the waters around Kastellorizo but Turkey rejects this, insisting it has greater claims to the eastern Mediterranean because it has a longer coastline.

Ankara first deployed the Oruc Reis seismic research vessel and warships to disputed waters on August 10 and extended the mission, ignoring repeated calls to stop by Athens and the European Union.

The vessel will be joined in the latest "seismic survey" mission by two other ships called Ataman and Cengiz Han, according to the NAVTEX message.

A strain on EU-Turkey ties

The Oruc Reis was pulled back to shore last month from waters claimed by Greece in what many hoped was a sign Ankara and Athens could resolve the crisis through talks.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the time said the withdrawal was to give diplomacy a chance ahead of an EU summit.

After the summit the bloc said it would punish Turkey if it continued its operations in the region, in a move Ankara said further strained Turkey-EU ties.

But Turkish officials also insisted the ship was only undergoing planned maintenance and would return to the eastern Mediterranean to continue its work.

Yet hope was further raised after Turkey and Greece agreed to exploratory talks last month after diplomatic efforts led by Germany to defuse the crisis.

The talks had been stalled since 2016 and the expectation was for their resumption in Istanbul but no exact date was ever given.

The Turkish and Greek foreign ministers also met last week on the sidelines of a security forum in Slovakia's capital Bratislava in the highest-level talks since tensions began.

The German foreign minister is expected to visit Ankara on Wednesday, according to Turkish state TRT broadcaster, where the eastern Mediterranean will be high on the agenda.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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