East Med’s Flammable Peace: France to Boost Military Presence Amid Escalating Tensions

Written by | Monday, August 17th, 2020

France will boost its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean amid an escalating standoff between Greece and Turkey over oil and gas exploration in disputed waters, French President Emmanuel Macron has announced. The move comes as Greece-Turkey tensions rise after Ankara sent a ship to prospect for oil and gas in disputed waters. In a Twitter post on Wednesday (12 August), the French president called the situation in the region “worrying”, and urged Turkey to stop its “unilateral” prospecting and “allow a peaceful dialogue” between the neighbouring NATO members. “I have decided to temporarily reinforce the French military presence in the eastern Mediterranean in the coming days, in cooperation with European partners, including Greece.” Macron’s office, in a statement, added that the move marked Paris’s “determination to uphold international law”. Turkey and Greece, NATO allies, vehemently disagree over overlapping claims to hydrocarbon resources in the region based on conflicting views on the extent of their continental shelves in waters dotted with mostly Greek islands. The gas-rich waters of the region is also a frequent source of dispute between Turkey, Cyprus and Israel. Last month, the French leader called for EU sanctions against Turkey for what he described as “violations” of Greek and Cypriot sovereignty over their territorial waters. Relations between Paris and Ankara have also frayed over the conflict in Libya. Meanwhile, Greece urged Ankara to show “sense” and warned that the showdown in the eastern Mediterranean could lead to a military accident. “The risk of an accident lurks when so many military assets are gathered in such a contained area,” Greek prime minister warned. The foreign ministers of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are to meet in Vienna on Friday (14 August) to discuss tensions, according to the Greek foreign ministry. The meeting comes days after Turkey dispatched the seismic survey vessel, Oruc Reis, to an area claimed by both nations, saying it will operate there until 23 August. Turkey has said it plans to issue gas exploration and drilling licences in the region, somewhere between the Greek island of Crete and Cyprus, this month. Turkey’s latest moves, days after Greece signed a maritime deal with Egypt which angered Ankara, have further raised tensions with its neighbour, ending a brief period of calm brokered by Germany. Dendias urged Turkey on Tuesday to “immediately leave the Greek continental shelf”, saying the country was determined to defend its sovereign rights. An extraordinary EU foreign ministers’ meeting has been set also for Friday (14 August) and will be held via teleconference.

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