Greece dials up diplomacy with EU as Turkish ship nears Greek island

(Updates with remarks from Turkish defence minister)

Athens has called for an embargo on military equipment sales to Turkey and the suspension of a European Union customs union deal to punish what it calls Turkish provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean, according to Greek media.

Greece is upping the diplomatic ante with its European allies after Turkey re-deployed a seismic survey ship, Oruç Reis, to explore for hydrocarbons in disputed waters near Greek islands.

The vessel has been sailing between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete over the past week, and neared the island of Kastellorizo on Tuesday.

The Greek government has requested that the European Commission consider suspending a customs union agreement between Turkey and the EU, due to Ankara’s “continued provocations,” Greek newspaper Kathimerinireported on Tuesday.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, in a letter to the European Commission enlargement chief, Oliver Varhely, said the Commission should consider a full suspension of the customs union “as a message of disapproval for Turkey's ongoing illegal behaviour” against the EU, it said.

Athens has also called on three countries, Germany, Italy and Spain, to halt exports of military equipment to Turkey, including submarines and frigates, Kathimerini said on Tuesday.

In a letter he sent to his counterparts in the three countries, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias cited Turkey’s “recent provocative actions” for the request. Turkish activities were aimed at creating faits accomplis in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean by military means, according to Dendias.

Later on Tuesday, Dendias said that Greece and Albania had agreed to petition the International Court of Justice in The Hague to delimit their exclusive economic zones (EEZ). The announcement arrived during Dendias' visit to Tirana.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar on Tuesday expressed Ankara's support for a resolution to the dispute in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean seas through dialogue and under international law and good neighbourly relations.

"Let's solve the problems by talking. But, everyone should have seen and understood that we won't submit to any fait accompli, coercion or pressure," state-run Anadolu news agency cited Akar as saying in a video conference meeting.

Oruç Reis has been conducting seismic surveys in the contested waters with Greece since August. Turkey last month recalled the ship in a bid to attempt dialogue with Athens over territorial disputes, but warned the vessel would return if progress was not made.

The ship sailed as close as 9 nautical miles (17 kilometers) from the island of Kastellorizo, according to reports in Greek media on Tuesday.

Greek Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Kathimerini on Tuesday that Turkey's decision to conduct new seismic exploration surveys of the seabed near the Greek island of Kastellorizo came as a “very bad surprise.”

“This back and forth of de-escalation and escalation is difficult to understand and leads to a dead end,” Maas said.

Maas added that a decision on whether to levy punitive measures against Ankara might be taken in December.

“[Sanctions] are part of our diplomatic toolbox, but they should be used with precaution. Are we already at this point regarding Turkey? Might we get there?” Maas said.

“This should depend on Ankara. We have set out a clear and measured way forward until the Council in December. It is up to Turkey to come on board. And in December we’ll have to decide,” the German foreign minister added.

Earlier this month, EU leaders warned that Turkey could face sanctions if it does not cease its “provocations and pressures” in the disputed waters.