Turkey's President Erdogan says Ankara is not seeking any "adventures" in the region, as France sends two fighter jets and naval frigate 'Lafayette' to increase military presence in the increasingly tense region.

This handout photograph released by the Turkish Defence Ministry on August 12, 2020, shows Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis (C) escorted by Turkish Naval ships in the Mediterranean Sea off Antalya on August 10, 2020.
This handout photograph released by the Turkish Defence Ministry on August 12, 2020, shows Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis (C) escorted by Turkish Naval ships in the Mediterranean Sea off Antalya on August 10, 2020. (AFP)

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the only solution to Ankara's dispute with Greece over energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean is through dialogue and negotiation, and Ankara was not seeking any "adventures" in the region.

His statements come after a Turkish research vessel began surveying for energy resources in contested areas of the eastern Mediterranean amid escalating tensions between NATO allies and regional rivals Greece and Turkey over offshore oil and gas exploration rights.

The Oruc Reis was conducting seismic research in an area Greece claims and Athens has said that the ship should withdraw. Both countries have warships shadowing the vessel. 

France, which has called for EU sanctions against Turkey over its exploration work, held training exercises with Greek forces off the island of Crete on Thursday.

Greek and Turkish officials signalled on Wednesday they were willing to resolve the dispute over their overlapping maritime claims, but vowed to protect their interests and blamed the other side for the stand-off.

Erdogan said Greece was demonstrating an "ill-disposed" approach, and urged Athens to respect Turkey's rights.

"The path to a solution in the eastern Mediterranean is via dialogue and negotiation," he said. 

"If we act with common sense and reason, we can find a win-win solution that meets everyone's interests.

We are not chasing any unnecessary adventures or seeking tensions," Erdogan emphasised.

Thursday's Greek-French military exercise off Crete was the first manifestation of President Emmanuel Macron's commitment to reinforce France's presence in the eastern Mediterranean.

Without identifying the country, Erdogan said Greece was being pushed into taking "wrong steps" in the region by "a country that doesn't even have a coast in the eastern Mediterranean".

"Nobody should think too highly of themselves. Let me be very clear: Don't try to put on a show," Erdogan said. 

READ MORE: Turkey declares Egypt-Greece maritime deal 'null and void'

Seismic research

"It is baseless to claim Meis (Kastellorizo) Island, with a surface area of 10 sq km, has 40,000 sq km maritime jurisdiction zone," Erdogan said on the Greek claim to the waters.

As part of the country's hydrocarbon surveying activities, Turkey issued a NAVTEX (navigational advisory) on August 10, announcing that the Oruc Reis would begin conducting fresh seismic research in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey’s decision came following a controversial delimitation deal signed between Greece and Egypt, only a day after Turkey said it would postpone its activities in the region as a sign of goodwill after dialogue efforts from Germany.

But after declaring the deal “null and void”, Turkey authorised the Oruc Reis to continue its activities in an area that is within Turkey’s continental shelf.

The ship will continue seismic activities in the Eastern Mediterranean along with the Cengiz Han and Ataman until August 23.

Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Sonmez said on Twitter that the Oruc Reis was "taking the x-ray of our seas". He said the vessel had also lowered 1,750 kilometres of seismic cables into the Mediterranean.

READ MORE: What is a NAVTEX and why did Turkey issue one to Greece?

Military presence builds up

France will send two Rafale fighter jets and the naval frigate 'Lafayette' to the eastern Mediterranean as part of plans to increase its military presence in the region, the armed forces ministry said on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Macron called on Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in the disputed waters in that area, which has resulted in heightened tensions with Greece.

Greek PM Description Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece had deployed naval vessels to the area and placed its military on alert in response to the Turkish deployment of its own fleet.

“Let it be known: The risk of an accident lurks when so many military assets are gathered in such a contained area,” Mitsotakis said. “In such a case, responsibility lies upon the one who gives rise to these circumstances.”

The prime minister said Greece “(does) not fear even the toughest dialogue” as it had faith in its positions, but that "dialogue becomes irrelevant in a climate of tension and provocation”.

“We will never be the ones to escalate the situation. Yet, self-restraint is only one aspect of our power,” Mitsotakis said. “No provocation will ... go unanswered. We have demonstrated that we will respond, if necessary. And we will do so again if it is required.”

READ MORE: Turkey to issue exploration licences in eastern Mediterranean amid tension

Relations between Greece and Turkey have traditionally been terse, and the neighbours have long been at loggerheads over a slew of disputes. The two have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s, including once over drilling exploration rights in the Aegean Sea that separates the two countries. Recent discoveries of natural gas and drilling plans across the eastern Mediterranean have led to renewed tension.

Turkey has signed a maritime deal with the GNA that would give Ankara access to an economic zone across the Mediterranean, despite objections from Greece and Egypt.

The EU said the deal was a violation of international law that threatened regional stability.

At the heart of the issue is how a country’s continental shelf is calculated and whether islands should be included in the calculation. Turkey argues they should not, a position that Greece says violates international law.

READ MORE: Why did Turkey sign a maritime deal with Libya?

Turkish Cypriot's rights

Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) also has rights to the resources in the area.

In 1974, following a coup aimed at Cyprus’s annexation by Greece, Ankara had to intervene as a guarantor power. In 1983, the TRNC was founded.

The decades since have seen several attempts to resolve the Cyprus dispute, all ending in failure. The latest one, held with the participation of the guarantor countries – Turkey, Greece and the UK – came to an end without any progress in 2017 in Switzerland.

Turkey’s decision to announce new exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean raised alarms in Greece on Monday as Athens responded with its own notice and by placing its navy on alert.

READ MORE: Turkey’s ‘Blue Homeland’: striking a balance in the Eastern Mediterranean

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies