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Germany says burden on Turkey to ease regional tensions

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Germany said Tuesday the onus was on Turkey to de-escalate tensions in the eastern Mediterranean after Ankara redeployed the research ship at the centre of an energy row.

“It is now up to Turkey to create those conditions and the climate so that there is the possibility of conducting exploratory talks without further challenges,” visiting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

“And the moment that this vessel embarks on a new search for hydrocarbons in the disputed maritime areas, this will truly be a serious blow to de-escalation efforts,” he added.

Maas said the talks could only be successful in a “constructive environment” but the Turkish side “must finally contribute to this”.

“The back-and-forth game of rhetorical escalation and de-escalation has to finally stop.”

He is on a lightning visit to Nicosia and Athens to calm nerves after Turkey re-engaged in energy exploration where Cyprus and Greece have territorial claims.

At a summit earlier this month, the European Union threatened sanctions if Turkey failed to stop what the bloc says is illegal drilling and energy exploration activities in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece.

“What we are most interested in is not the adoption of sanctions. It is how illegal actions are dealt with which no one in the EU disputes under any circumstances,” said Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.

The row over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean saw Greece and Turkey two NATO countries stage rival military drills in August in strategic waters between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.

The Turkish navy said the Oruc Reis ship will carry out activities in the region, until October 22 in a message sent to the maritime alert system NAVTEX.

Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez delivered a defiant message via Twitter on Monday that Turkey “will continue to search, dig and protect our rights”.

Ankara first deployed the Oruc Reis and warships to disputed waters on August 10 and extended the mission, ignoring repeated calls to stop by Greece and the European Union.

The Oruc Reis was pulled back to shore last month in what many hoped was a sign the two sides could resolve the issue through dialogue.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the time that the withdrawal was designed to give diplomacy a chance.

But Turkish officials also insisted the ship was in port for planned maintenance and would return to the eastern Mediterranean to continue its work.

The announcement dashed hopes raised when Turkey and Greece agreed to exploratory talks last month after diplomatic efforts led by Germany to defuse the crisis.