Erdogan to speak to Merkel, EU chief over Greece row

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he will speak to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU chief Charles Michel later on Thursday to defuse a row with Greece over eastern Mediterranean gas.

Longstanding tension between Turkey and EU member state Greece escalated when Ankara resumed energy exploration in the region off the Greek island of Kastellorizo on Monday.

Turkey dispatched the research ship Oruc Reis accompanied by naval vessels, prompting Greece to send its own ships to the area to monitor Turkey’s work.

Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling party’s provincial leaders that he wanted to resolve the emerging crisis “through dialogue and negotiations”, accusing Athens of harbouring “ill-will”.

“We have always sought a solution to problems with Greece at the table. We don’t want to infringe on others’ rights but we won’t allow another country to infringe ours,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday France would strengthen its military presence in the region with the cooperation of European partners, including Greece.

Erdogan hit out at Macron for visiting Lebanon in the wake of its devastating blast in Beirut earlier this month, accusing him of “putting on a show”.

“Macron’s concern is to bring back a colonialist structure. We don’t have desires like that,” he said, without directly criticising France’s plans in the region.

Erdogan’s talks with Merkel and Michel, who heads the European Council, will come before an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers on Friday where the tensions will be discussed.

The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the area has sparked a scramble for the energy riches, and caused a row between Greece and Cyprus on one side and Turkey on the other.

The situation is further complicated by Turkey’s occupation of the northern part of Cyprus, and insistence the resources and benefits that come from any discovery should be shared fairly between Turkish and Greek Cypriots.