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Iran Press TV

Greece announces major weapons purchase amid tensions with Turkey

Iran Press TV

Sunday, 13 September 2020 5:28 AM

Greece has announced a significant arms purchase deal with France and a decision to overhaul its military as tensions continue to rise with Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean.

"The time has come to reinforce the armed forces... these initiatives constitute a robust program that will become a national shield," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Saturday during an economic address in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

The weapons purchase will include 18 French Rafale fighter jets, four frigates and four navy helicopters.

Tensions have flared between Greece and Turkey over oil and gas exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, prompting fears of more severe conflict.

Turkey has dispatched a seismic research vessel – and warships to escort it – to an area in the sea that is disputed with Greece. There have been encounters with rival Greek vessels.

Mitsotakis said that Greece will also strengthen its armed forces after years of "de-investment."

"The time to balance our needs and our capabilities has arrived. We must strengthen our armed forces for the safety of our country, it is our utmost duty towards the Greeks, who will bear the cost - the price of our place on the map," he said.

The country's armed forces, the premier said, will also hire 15,000 soldiers over the next five years.

The European Union - of which Greece is a member - has previously called for dialog, but has sided with Athens.

Last week, Mitsotakis said resolving the dispute with Turkey through dialog was important provided that the talks were held on peaceful terms, and not "at gunpoint."

Ankara, for its part, has said it was open to resolving the territorial dispute via dialog, warning that Athens would face "painful" consequences otherwise.

Greece's most ambitious military overhaul in nearly two decades is unveiled as the bitter row with Turkey has roped in other European powers.

French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Europe to show a united front against the "unacceptable" conduct of Turkey, saying Europe needed "to be clear and firm with Ankara.

'Don't mess with Turkey'

The Turkish president warned Macron on Saturday "not to mess" with Turkey.

"You will have many more problems with me," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech. "Don't mess with the Turkish people. Don't mess with Turkey."

France last month deployed forces to the Eastern Mediterranean to assist Greece, including a frigate, an amphibious helicopter and two warplanes -- further escalating the standoff with Turkey.

Relations between the two NATO members have been strained by several other issues, including the divided island of Cyprus and the crossing of migrants into Greece from Turkey.

Cyprus has also accused Turkey of breaching its sovereignty by drilling in the waters.

During a visit to Cyprus on Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned Turkey's actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, while explicitly backing Greece.

"We remain deeply concerned about Turkey's ongoing operations searching for natural resources in areas over which Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean," Pompeo said.

"The Republic of Cyprus has the right to exploit its natural resources, including the right to its hydrocarbons found in its territorial sea and its exclusive economic zone," he added.

Ankara earlier accused Washington of poisoning "regional peace and stability."

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