Although Cyprus said the withdrawal of Turkish survey vessel Oruc Reis is a move in the right direction, Ankara suggested it could return after leaving the region for resupplies.
Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides told the Cyprus News Agency that Oruc Reis returning to port and Turkey not renewing a NAVTEX for activity in the East Med is a “step towards the right direction”.
But he pointed out: “Turkey continues to violate the Republic of Cyprus EEZ despite calls by the international community, including the EU and the US.”
Brussels is contemplating tougher sanctions on Turkey for its energy search in Cyprus and Greek waters, unless tensions winddown.
Turkey’s seismic research vessel Oruc Reis returned to Antalya on Sunday, a move Greece also said was a positive first step in easing tensions over offshore natural resources.
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar played down the significance of the move, saying the ship had returned to shore as part of scheduled maintenance plans, resupply, and crew change.
NATO members Turkey and Greece have overlapping claims to continental shelves and rights to potential energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tensions flared last month after Ankara sent Oruc Reis to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects in waters claimed by Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.
Turkey’s navy had issued an advisory saying that the vessel would continue operations in the area until September 12.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the ship would continue exploratory operations for longer but no extension to the advisory has been issued so far.
Turkey has also said it is open to solving issues with Greece through dialogue but had publicly rejected any pre-conditions, including Oruc Reis halting operations, ahead of negotiations.
Akar told state-owned Anadolu news agency that Oruc Reis’ return did not mean Ankara had given up its rights in the area.
“There are planned operations. There will be back-and-forth movements within the framework of this plan.”
Seismic surveys are part of preparatory work for potential hydrocarbon exploration.
Turkey says it has a legitimate claim over the area in the eastern Mediterranean.
There is no agreement between Greece and Turkey delimiting their continental shelves, while Turkey disputes any claims by Cyprus, with which it has no diplomatic relations.
The spokesman for the Turkish Presidency, Ibrahim Kalin, struck a more moderate tone pointing to an opportunity for diplomacy to break the deadlock.
“Greece and EU countries should not squander the chance given to diplomacy and must take reciprocal steps,” he tweeted. (source agencies)