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Iran Press TV

Turkey ‘withdrew survey ship to allow for diplomacy with Greece, will return it though’

Iran Press TV

Friday, 18 September 2020 7:42 PM

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey withdrew a seismic research vessel from disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean Sea to allow for diplomacy with Greece, with which Ankara has been involved in a dispute over oil and gas resources in the region.

President Erdogan made the remark in Istanbul on Friday, adding, however, that Turkey’s operations for exploring oil and gas in contested Mediterranean waters will resume.

Back in August, Turkey dispatched the seismic research vessel Oruc Reis, accompanied by naval vessels, off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, where Turkey disputes Greek maritime rights. Greece responded by sending its own military vessels to monitor the situation.

However, on Sunday, the Turkish government returned Oruc Reis, along with the two accompanying vessels, to waters near the southern province of Antalya for what it called routine maintenance.

Erdogan said the temporary withdrawal was also meant to show goodwill and added that the ship would return to the disputed waters after maintenance.

“Let’s give diplomacy a chance, let’s put forth a positive approach for diplomacy. Greece should also positively meet this approach of ours, and let’s take a step accordingly,” Erdogan told reporters. “This is why we did it.”

“But this does not mean that, because Oruc Reis was pulled back for maintenance, our seismic activities will fully stop,” he said. “Once the maintenance period is finished, Oruc Reis will go back to its operations again and continue its work there.”

The withdrawal of the ship by Turkey has been hailed by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as a first positive step toward defusing the growing tensions.

Erdogan said he was ready to meet with Mitsotakis in person or via video conference to discuss the tensions.

Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, have been embroiled in a long-running territorial dispute in the eastern Mediterranean over the region’s rich resources.

The energy dispute builds on a much longer history of animosity between Turkey and Greece, dating back to 1974 when Turkish forces invaded Cyprus in response to a Greek-backed military coup.

The energy dispute has raised the specter of a potential military confrontation. Last month, one Greek and one Turkish naval vessel were even involved in a minor collision.

Member states of the European Union (EU), particularly France, fully support Greece in the current dispute and have threatened Turkey with sanctions. EU leaders are set to hold an emergency meeting next week, where the bloc will discuss imposing sanctions on Turkey.

Turkey says it has the largest coastline among all other eastern Mediterranean countries but at the same time has a disproportionately small share of the sea because of Greece’s far-flung islands — a number of them even within sight of Turkey’s shores.

Greece argues that its claims to the waters are based on international law and also grounded in past agreements with Turkey.

While Turkey has temporarily withdrawn Oruc Reis from waters claimed by Greece, it has extended the operations of another ship, the Yavuz, in waters disputed with Cyprus.

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