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Greek FM heads for Vienna talks amid standoff with Turkey

Greek FM heads for Vienna talks amid standoff with Turkey
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ATHENS, Greece - Greece’s foreign minister travelled to Vienna Friday for urgent talks with his European Union counterparts and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on military tensions with Turkey, as the Greek and Turkish navies continued a game of brinkmanship over eastern Mediterranean drilling rights.

Nikos Dendias was due to meet Pompeo and Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, with whom he will also participate in the emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers held by video conference and chaired by the 27-country bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Athens is seeking backing and potential EU sanctions from its partners in the dispute with neighbouring Turkey, which comes weeks after a similar confrontation was defused with the intercession of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

So far, only France has responded, pledging to boost its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean and sending two warships to the area Thursday for joint drills with the Greek navy. France also deployed two fighter planes to the southern Greek island of Crete. French relations with Turkey are already bad over Ankara’s involvement in Libya’s civil war.

Relations between historic regional rivals — and nominal NATO allies — Greece and Turkey have hit a more than two-decade low after Turkey sent a seismic research ship, escorted by warships, to prospect Monday for potential offshore oil and gas in waters Athens claims as its own.

Greece placed its armed forces on high alert and sent warships to the spot, south of Turkey between Crete and the island nation of Cyprus, demanding the vessels’ withdrawal. Turkey claims it has every right to prospect in the area, as well as in neighbouring waters Cyprus considers its own, after the discovery of large offshore gas deposits in recent years off Israel, Egypt and Cyprus.

The governments in Athens and Ankara have spoken of the need for peaceful dialogue, though it’s unclear how that could happen with each insisting that they will defend their rights. Meanwhile, with the warships dancing about each other in a relatively small patch of the eastern Mediterranean, there’s a real danger of rapid escalation in the case of an accidental collision or hostile act.

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cryptically implied that his country had responded to an incident involving the Turkish research ship Oruc Reis.

“We have said, ‘Do not attack our Oruc Reis. If you do, you will pay a heavy price.’ And today, they got their first response,” Erdogan said.

Greek officials said they were unaware of any incident Thursday, and the Foreign Ministry said Dendias would brief his EU partners from Vienna on “the true events during recent days concerning operational incidents in the area.”
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