Foreign Minister Maas has been trying to mediate the gas dispute with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean for weeks – without success. At the start of his visit to Cyprus and Greece, he made clear words in the direction of Ankara.
Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has sharply criticized NATO partner Turkey for its approach to the gas dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean. During his visit to the Cyprus capital Nicosia, Maas called on the government in Ankara to refrain from provocations towards Greece and Cyprus.
Maas pointed out that the EU had set Turkey a deadline of mid-December to start trusting steps with its western neighbors. So far, Ankara has not done anything in this direction. "The half-life of commitments must be longer than two days," he added, referring to Turkey’s earlier commitments for de-escalation.
USA demands an end to the Turkish provocations
The US State Department also warned of an escalation. "Pressure, threats, intimidation and military activity do not resolve tensions in the eastern Mediterranean," said a spokeswoman in Washington. "We call on Turkey to end these calculated provocations and to start exploratory talks with Greece immediately."
Maas promises "full solidarity" with Cyprus and Greece
Even before his departure, Maas had warned Turkey of an escalation in the dispute: "Ankara must end the interplay between relaxation and provocation if the government is interested in talks – as it has repeatedly asserted," he said with reference on the dispatch of a Turkish exploration ship.
The EU partners Cyprus and Greece have "full solidarity, also in our current role as EU Council Presidency," emphasized the SPD politician. It is clear that all sides have to work on a reasonable neighborhood relationship. "We therefore appeal to Turkey that the dialogue window that has just opened with Greece will not be reopened through unilateral measures."
Maas urged Turkey not to resume gas exploration in the more controversial sea areas. This would be "a major setback" for efforts to de-escalate and develop EU-Turkey relations.
No further travel to Turkey
Following the meeting in Cyprus, Maas will fly to Athens, where talks with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias will also deal with the dispute with Turkey.
However, there will be no subsequent visit to Turkey, which the Turkish and Greek media had already reported. "It is up to Turkey to create the conditions for talks," said Maas. He "made a conscious decision" to only travel to Cyprus and Greece and not to Turkey as originally planned.
"Orcus Reis" sent again to the Eastern Mediterranean
Turkey sent its research vessel "Oruc Reis" to the controversial area south of the Greek island of Kastelorizo on Monday after there had been signs of detente in recent weeks. The "Oruc Reis" is now expected to remain in the area until October 20 to take further seismic measurements. The Greek Foreign Ministry had described the move as a "direct threat to peace and security in the region".
Since the discovery of rich gas deposits in the region, there has been heated dispute over their exploitation. Both the EU members Greece and Cyprus and Turkey lay claim to the sea areas concerned. Ankara and Athens have also made their position clear by sending warships. This has heightened concerns in the EU that the dispute could lead to a military conflict between NATO partners.
The gas dispute is also a topic at EU summits
According to the Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, the gas dispute will also be a topic at the EU summit on Thursday and Friday. At the beginning of October, the EU waived the sanctions requested by Cyprus and Greece against Turkey, but threatened a reaction in the event of new Turkish measures in the natural gas conflict.