Turkey extends surveys amid efforts for talks
Turkey has announced that it has extended the seismic surveys carried out by its research vessel, Oruç Reis, in the disputed areas of the eastern Mediterranean until Aug. 27 as German top diplomat Heiko Maas will hold talks in Athens and Ankara on Aug. 25 in a bid to defuse the tension between the two neighbors.
According to a NAVTEX, an advisory to sailors, issued by Turkey on late Aug. 23, the Oruç Reis and the two accompanying research vessels will continue their surveys for another four days in the same area claimed by Turkey and Greece as their sovereign continental shelf.
The move came just a day before German Foreign Minister Maas will start to shuttle diplomacy between Athens and Ankara in a bid to reduce the tension and to pave the way for technical talks to resolve the disputes stemming from the Aegean and Mediterranean. Germany is serving as the term president of the European Union until the end of this year.
“Heiko Maas, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany, will pay an official visit to Turkey on Aug. 25, 2020. During the meetings between our minister and his German counterpart, which will take place in Ankara, bilateral relations, Turkey-EU relations, the eastern Mediterranean and regional issues will be discussed,” read a statement issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Aug. 24.
Maas will first meet Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Athens and will later fly to Ankara to meet Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Maas will hold press conferences after his talks with both Dendias and Çavuşoğlu. In Greece, Maas will also meet Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras.
Germany to remain in dialogue with both sides
“We take the tensions there very seriously,” German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger told reporters on Monday.
“We are worried that the tensions could further weigh on the relationship between Turkey and the EU and that further escalation could have grave consequences,” Burger said, adding that the Turkish decision to extend the surveys was a “wrong signal” given before Maas’ talks.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told the briefing that it was “essential” that Germany “remain in dialogue with both sides.” “The aim is for Greece and Turkey to resolve their problems with each other directly.”
Germany’s first initiative to broker a deal between Turkey and Greece for the resumption of the “exploratory talks,” stalled since 2016, failed after Greece signed a controversial maritime delimitation agreement with Egypt, just a day before Ankara and Athens were supposed to jointly announce the move.
In return, Turkey has dispatched the Oruç Reis to resume its surveys in the area, which Greece claims to be its continental shelf. Greece said that the Turkish NAVTEX issued is illegal and stressed that it will not hold talks with Turkey until the ship gets withdrawn from these waters.
EU top diplomats to meet in Berlin
Maas’ visit to Athens and Ankara comes only two days before the EU’s 27 foreign ministers will get convened in an informal meeting, dubbed the Gymnich meetings, where the tension in the eastern Mediterranean will also be discussed among other issues.
Greece, Greek Cyprus and France were exerting pressure on the EU to impose sanctions against Turkey, but several countries including Germany, Italy and Spain, objected to the calls. EU will discuss the matter at an extraordinary leaders’ summit in late September under the chairmanship of Charles Michel, the president of the EU Council.