ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s foreign minister said Tuesday his country favors a dialogue with rival Greece that would lead to the fair sharing of resources in the eastern Mediterranean, where the two countries are locked in a tense standoff that other nations worry could spill into a military conflict.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also accused Greece of engaging in “provocative acts” in the region with the backing of the European Union, which has threatened sanctions against Ankara.
“We favor a joint solution that involves sitting around the table to negotiate with all sides in the eastern Mediterranean, for everyone to benefit from the eastern Mediterranean resources in a just manner or for the sharing (of resources) fairly,” Cavusoglu said, speaking at a news conference with his Algerian counterpart.
In recent weeks, Turkish and Greek warships have shadowed each other in the eastern Mediterranean while leaders from the two countries engaged in angry rhetoric. The armed forces of Greece and Turkey also conducted exercises in the seas between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.
The standoff was sparked when Turkey sent its research vessel, Oruc Reis, accompanied by warships to search for gas and oil reserves. The Turish government said Monday it was extending the Oruc Reis’ mission by another 10 days, until Sept. 12.
Greece responded by issuing a counter-notice, asking mariners to disregard Turkey’s advisory about the extension of search activities in the area.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has threatened Greece with military action, described Turkey’s activities in the eastern Mediterranean as the “pursuit of (its) rights and justice” and denounced what he said were Greek efforts to “imprison” Turkey to a small region surrounding its coast.
“Efforts to descend on the riches of the Mediterranean, which are the rights of every country around it, is an example of modern-day colonialism,” Erdogan said.
He also accused some nations he did not name of pushing Greece into a confrontation with Turkey.
“It is comical how (nations) are trying to throw a state that cannot even help itself as bait in front of a regional and global power like Turkey,” he said.
Greece, a member of the European Union, claims the waters are part of its continental shelf and has enlisted the support of the 27-nation bloc, which has condemned Turkey’s “illegal activities” and plans to blacklist Turkish officials linked to energy exploration.
Turkey disputes Greece’s claims that waters where it’s searching for hydrocarbons are part of Greece’s continental shelf, insisting that Greek islands near Turkey’s coast cannot be taken into account when delineating maritime boundaries. Ankara accuses Athens of trying to grab an unfair share of the eastern Mediterranean’s resources.
On Tuesday, the European Union said it was “very clear” with its message to Turkey that it needs to deescalate regional tensions or face sanctions.
“We hope that this is being taken into account by our Turkish partners and friends and that they will start to act accordingly so that we don’t have to proceed through the alternative path of restrictive measures,” EU spokesman Peter Stanos said.
Greece voiced hope Monday that the threat of sanctions from its European Union partners would persuade Turkey to stop its offshore energy prospecting
Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said the threat of sanctions gave Turkey an “exit strategy” from the evolving crisis.
“It is in Turkey’s interest above all, with its economy shaken and so many open fronts, to realize that right now Europe is offering it a way out … (allowing) the peaceful settling of our differences to define maritime zones between the two countries,” Petsas said.
Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.