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Iran Press TV

Turkey to stage new naval drill, accuses France of bullying

Iran Press TV

Thursday, 27 August 2020 1:50 PM

Turkey has announced new naval exercises near its shores after accusing France of "bullying" as escalating tensions between Ankara and Athens in the eastern Mediterranean Sea over gas and oil exploration risked turning into a military standoff.

The Turkish navy said on Thursday that it would stage "gunnery exercises" at the edge of its territorial waters in the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the drills were "security related" and did not directly concern Turkey's controversial search for natural gas that has pitted it against Greece and the European Union.

The Turkish defense minister on Thursday also warned: "There's neither a deadline nor a limit" to Turkish exercises and exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

"They will be carried out as much as they are needed ... We are determined to protect our rights."

Turkey is involved in a dispute over oil and gas exploration rights with Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.

Earlier this month, Turkey dispatched a warship-escorted research vessel to explore for energy resources in the disputed waters of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, where Greece claims exclusive rights to the seabed.

Athens responded by sending warships to the area and placing its military on alert. France, in clear signaling of support for Greece, also dispatched warships and planes for joint drills with Greek forces.

Greece's European support is led by EU military powerhouse France. In recent days, Greece -- joined by France, Cyprus and Italy -- have staged its own war games.

French President Emmanuel Macron has also called for EU sanctions against Ankara for "violations" of Greek and Cypriot sovereignty over their territorial waters.

The EU fully backed Greece's maritime claims last week and sanctioned two Turkish energy executives, warning Ankara to "immediately" stop its oil and gas exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

The French intervention has particularly upset Turkey. The Turkish defense minister in a televised interview said that France had adopted bullying policies to destabilize the region.

"The time for bullying is over. You have no chance to force (us) to take some actions through bullying," Akar said.

"It's an empty dream to think about preventing or changing the activities of Turkey or the Turkish armed forces," he said of the French military presence in the region.

Akar also urged Greece to stop hiding behind France or the EU and said: "As Turkey and the Greeks, we need to solve our problems by holding talks... We say we should talk, we say dialogue and want a solution."

Turkey had paused the research activities on a request from Germany but restarted them after a maritime agreement was signed between Greece and Egypt. Ankara described that agreement as "worthless" and an attempt to keep Turkey out of the region.

Mediterranean war games must stop to allow talks: Germany

Germany on Thursday called for an end to naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean Sea to allow space for talks between Greece and Turkey.

"We need a diplomatic solution to this conflict... The preconditions for these talks are that these maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean are stopped," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Berlin. "For sure the parties will not sit down at the table when warships are facing each other in the eastern Mediterranean."

EU foreign ministers meeting in Berlin are discussing tensions in the area. Germany's intensifying efforts to calm the rhetoric and get talks on track have so far been ineffective.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country will not give up "what it deserves" in the Mediterranean Sea, warning Greece against making mistakes that would pave the way to its "ruin".

Erdogan has also vowed to continue the country's energy exploration in the disputed waters despite warnings from the EU and the military buildup by France.

NATO says seeks to avoid accidental clashes in East Mediterranean

Later on Thursday, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) said it is looking for ways to avoid accidental clashes in the Eastern Mediterranean while supporting German diplomatic efforts to defuse the worsening dispute over energy resources there

Speaking to Reuters, NATO's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said the military alliance is considering "deconfliction" measures to prevent naval accidents in that region, but refrained from giving further details.

"I am also exploring the possibilities of NATO developing mechanisms to prevent incidents and accidents, a set of deconfliction mechanisms," Stoltenberg said after meeting with European Union defense ministers.

"The fact that there are so many ships, so many military capabilities in a quite limited area, that in itself is a reason for concern," he added.

Stoltenberg noted that said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas' meetings during the current week in Athens and Ankara must be supported to allow Greece and Turkey to reduce tensions.

"What I think is important now is to support the German efforts to try to establish a platform for dialogue, for talks between two NATO allies, Turkey and Greece," he said.

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