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Greece to request EU foreign affairs council emergency meeting amid tensions over Turkish drilling

Turkey's research vessel, Oruc Reis, has begun exploratory drilling, angering Greece
Turkey's research vessel, Oruc Reis, has begun exploratory drilling, angering Greece   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici
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Greece will request an emergency meeting of the European Union's Foreign Affairs Council, the prime minister's office announced amid growing tensions with Turkey over drilling in the eastern Mediterranean.

It comes after Turkey announced a research vessel would be conducting exploratory drilling in an area between Cyprus and Greece, the latest move in an ongoing territorial dispute between the two countries.

Turkey issued a Navtex, or international maritime safety message, announcing its research vessel Oruc Reis and two auxiliary vessels would be conducting exploratory drilling from Monday 10 August until 23 August.

Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Donmez said on Twitter that the Oruc Reis had arrived in its area of operation from its anchorage off Turkey’s southern coast, saying “83 million back the Oruc Reis,” referring to Turkey’s population.

The move to begin exploratory drilling comes amid anger on the Turkish side over a deal signed between Greece and Egypt on economic zones for drilling rights and maritime boundaries, which Turkey claims is intended to keep it out of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Last year, Turkey signed a similar deal with the UN-backed Libyan government in Tripoli, sparking outrage in Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, who all said it infringed on their economic rights in the Mediterranean. The European Union says it’s a violation of international law that threatens stability in the region.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke on Monday morning with European Council President Charles Michel, informing him about the Greek-Egyptian agreement and the situation in the eastern Mediterranean, officials said. He was scheduled to speak to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday afternoon.

The two sides had been in negotiations in Berlin and were on the verge of issuing a joint statement, but the Greek-Egyptian deal led to Turkey halting the talks.

“The moment the agreement with Egypt was announced, we received a clear instruction from our president: ‘You are halting the talks. Inform the Germans and the Greeks, we are not pressing ahead with the negotiations,’” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, told CNN-Turk television.

NATO allies and neighbours Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over a wide variety of issues, including sea boundaries, and have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s.

Recent discoveries of natural gas and drilling plans across the east Mediterranean have led to a spike in tension.