Turkey is no longer a partner in the region, Macron says

(Updates story with NATO meeting in the twenty-fourth and twenty-sixth paragraphs, Greek deputy foreign minister's statements in the tenth and eleventh paragraph, Turkey's response to Macron in the fifth and sixth paragraphs, Macron's statements in the first three paragraphs)

French President Emmanuel Macron said during the meeting with leaders from six Mediterranean EU countries on Thursday for talks focused on growing tensions between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus that Turkey was behaving like a NATO ally in the region.

Macron called Turkey's behaviour in the region "unacceptable" and he said he told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in private talks what he says publicly. 

"Turkey signed a [maritime] deal with Libya while ignored Greece's legitimate rights. Turkey's activities off the coast of Cyprus are also unacceptable. These provocations at the same time not fitting for a big state. The Turkish people are grand. However, we need to be more straightforward with the Erdoğan government," said Macron in the press briefing before the summit.

Macron, in the same briefing, said that Turkey is not behaving like an ally even though Ankara is a NATO member.

Turkey was quick to respond to Macron’s remarks, Turkish Foreign Ministry said the French President made an "arrogant statement reflecting his old colonialist reflexes targeting the country and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan."

“In fact, Macron's statements are a manifestation of his own incompetence and despair. The world has left behind the days when they freely acted. Macron, whose sneaky foreign policy plans were spoiled by us, every day attacks Turkey and our president with his feeling of grudge,” the ministry said in a statement.

The summit on the French island of Corsica is bringing together the leaders of France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Cyprus. It was set to begin at around 3 p.m. central European time, according to Agence France Presse.

The aim of the talks is to "make progress in the consensus on the relationship of the (European Union) with Turkey above all ahead of the 24-25 September EU summit", AFP cited a French presidential official as saying.

The EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on Aug. 28 that the bloc was preparing sanctions against Turkey that could be discussed at EU summit.

Macron will hold talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis before Thursday’s meeting, AFP said.

France has strongly backed Greece and Cyprus in a growing standoff with Turkey over territorial claims and a military buildup in the eastern Mediterranean that has sparked fears of conflict.

The Greek media has said Greece may purchase Rafale fighter jets and at least one frigate from France, in a sign of an increasingly strong alliance between Paris and Athens.

Turkey still has time to avoid sanctions and “take a step back” from its activities in the sub-region, Mitsotakis said in an op-ed published in The Times on Wednesday.

“We do need dialogue, but not when held at gunpoint. What threatens my country’s security and stability threatens the well-being and safety of all EU member states,” he said. “If Europe wants to exercise true geopolitical power, it simply cannot afford to appease a belligerent Turkey.”

However, Greece’s Deputy Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said on Thursday that if Turkey does not remove military and research vessels from Cypriot waters, the EU must issue “severe sanctions," Reuters reported.

“The sanctions should put this pressure, to be severe, for a limited time, but severe, in order to send the message that Europe is here to negotiate but is also here to defend its values,” Miltiadis Varvitsiotis told the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

On Wednesday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told his German counterpart Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer that other countries involved in the eastern Mediterranean dispute should approach the issue with "common sense and spirit of the alliance", state-run Anadolu news agency reported, citing an official statement.

Turkey says it is ready for talks with Greece and accuses Athens of failing to come to the negotiating table.

Political and military tensions between Turkey and Greece have intensified after Ankara sent the Oruç Reis research vessel escorted by Turkish warships to a disputed area between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete on Aug. 10. Athens responded to the move by sending naval and air units to shadow the vessel and conducted military exercises with Cyprus and France in the area, creating a standoff at risk of escalating into a direct confrontation.

Turkey is righteous and resolute, will never allow any fait accompli, and will continue to defend its rights based international law, Akar said.

During a visit to Ankara this week, NATO Military Committee Chairman Stuart Peach said Turkey was a valuable ally for the military alliance, of which Greece is also a member.

“Turkey makes essential contributions to NATO operations and activities. NATO is working to strengthen further our collective deterrence and defence, and to project stability beyond our borders, and Turkey is playing a key role in both,” Peach said, according to NATO’s official website.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sept. 3 that Turkey and Greece had agreed to begin technical talks at NATO to resolve tensions in the region, a statement Athens later denied. 

Stoltenberg gave the countries a deadline, which expires on Thursday, to respond to his proposals for talks on de-escalating tensions, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported on Wednesday.

Turkish and Greek officials at NATO headquarters held talks on how to avoid military escalation in the eastern Mediterranean on Thursday.

"The following meeting is planned to be held in the coming days," Turkish Defence Ministry said on Twitter, without providing further details on the meeting.