NATO welcomes return to port of Turkish seismic research ship

The Turkish research vessel Oruç Reis’ return to port this week helps to reduce political and military tensions between NATO members Greece and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, the military alliance’s chief said.

The step could help bring Greece and Turkey to the negotiating table, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

"I also hope that military deconfliction at NATO, where we've seen some important steps in the right direction can help to pave the way into negotiations," Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of a meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers starting on Tuesday, according to Anadolu.

Turkey has withdrawn the Oruç Reis from waters contested with neighbours Greece and Cyprus ahead of an EU summit on Dec. 10 that will discuss tough sanctions against the country in response to its maritime activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey, Greece and Cyprus are embroiled in a political and military standoff over territorial claims and potential hydrocarbon resources.

NATO has brokered a series of technical meetings between Turkish and Greek military officials since early September to establish de-confliction mechanisms and to avoid a potential incident. The meetings coincided with German-led efforts to bring the countries’ political leaders into exploratory talks.

“This is something Germany is working on, but also some other countries, and NATO, of course, strongly support those efforts," Stoltenberg said.

Expectations for a de-escalation in tensions faded in October when Turkey announced naval exercises and sent the Oruç Reis back into contested waters to continue a search for oil and natural gas, a move that had sparked the dispute on Aug. 10.