Turkey calls on Greece to enter NATO-backed talks to end East Med dispute - live blog

Turkey called on Greece to enter NATO-backed talks to reduce tensions in the eastern Mediterranean and prevent unwanted accidents between the countries’ militaries deployed there.

The Turkish government is "ready for dialogue without pre-conditions", the foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday. It spoke after a Greek official rejected a NATO statement that Athens had agreed to enter the negotiations.

“We expect Greece to support the NATO Secretary-General's initiative," the ministry said. "These de-conflict talks are not about the solution of bilateral issues between Turkey and Greece, but rather about the arrangements previously discussed at the bilateral level between the military authorities of the two countries.”

Political and military tensions between the two NATO allies over territory in the Mediterranean have peaked 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 ship and conducting military exercises with Cyprus and France in the area, creating a standoff at risk of escalating into a direct confrontation.

NATO said on Thursday that Greece and Turkey had agreed to begin talks to reduce the risk of military confrontation. A Greek official denied such an accord, according to the Associated Press. 

“Following my discussions with Greek and Turkish leaders, the two Allies have agreed to enter into technical talks at NATO to establish mechanisms for military de-confliction,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement on the military alliance’s website. 

The Greek official told AP that Turkey must first withdraw its ships from drilling areas and that talk of an agreement to conduct negotiations did not correspond with reality. 

“In any case, we have noted the NATO Secretary-General’s intention to work to create mechanisms for de-escalation within the framework of NATO,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, according to AP.

On Thursday, Erdoğan told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that support given by some countries for Greece’s “selfish and unjust stance” in the eastern Mediterranean was unacceptable. The two leaders spoke via video conference, state-run Anadolu news agency reported, citing the president’s communications office.

Merkel had not yet spoken with Mitsotakis, according to Kathimerini. Germany has taken a meditating role in the regional dispute.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın held a phone conversation with U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien to discuss the standoff.

During their conversation, Kalın and O’Brien discussed bilateral relations, as well as developments in eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish press reported.

(All times local time - GMT+3)

21:20 – France goes against spirit of allyship, says Turkish Defence Minister Akar

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, speaking at the graduation ceremony of a military institute, condemned France and announced support for talks between Greek and Turkish military forces to end the Eastern Mediterranean dispute, state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Friday.

“France has made certain statements on Iraq, as Eastern Mediterranean was not enough. Such comments do not contribute to the spirit of allyship, nor peace, nor dialogue,” Akar said.

Akar announced support for NATO-led talks, saying, “Following NATO Secretary General meeting with our President, there has been an initiative to start meetings between soldiers, we support such things.”

17:00 – European Council wants to be respected by Turkey - President of EC

 European Union leaders will adapt a “carrot and stick” approach to Turkey when they get together on Sept. 24-25, Charles Michel, the President of the European Council said on Friday, proposing a multi-party conference to de-escalate in the eastern Mediterranean.

“We will identify tools in our external policy, a sticks and carrots approach - what tools to use to improve the relationship and what tools to react (with) if we are not being respected,” Michel quoted as saying by Reuters. “We want to be respected.”

“That could be the best way to de-escalate in the region and offer a channel for dialogue,” he said, adding he had already floated the idea with Athens and Ankara. “What is happening, what has been happening the last few weeks, cannot go on," report said.

16:15 – Turkish defence minister flies in fighter jet in north Aegean region

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar flew in an F-16 aircraft over Turkey and along the north Aegean coast, according to a video published by his ministry on Thursday.

The flight comes at a time of increased military and political tensions with neighbour Greece in the Aegean and Mediterranean.

Akar sat in the co-pilot’s seat of the F-16, which flew in a four-fighter group, a trip that coincided with the start of a Turkish Air Force pilot training programme, the ministry said on its website.

The planes flew over the Çanakkale Martyrs’ Memorial, it said, referring to a statue that honours the 253,000 Turkish soldiers who fought at the Battle of Gallipoli in World War One.

Much of the video showed the fighter jets flying over the Turkish mainland. There was no evidence to suggest that the planes flew in airspace claimed by Greece.

15:25 – Greece and Turkey have already met for military-level technical talks, no agreement yet - NATO chief

Technical talks between Turkey and Greece have begun in NATO to establish mechanisms for military de-confliction and reduce accidents in the eastern Mediterranean, Anadolu cited NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg as saying on Friday.

“No agreement has been reached on this mechanism as yet; these are technical talks, rather than negotiations on underlying disputes between Greece and Turkey” he told reporters after a NATO meeting, clarifying that the talks were separate from negotiations Germany was seeking to initiate.

“The German efforts aim at establishing negotiations addressing underlying problems and to de-escalate.”

14:30 – Turkey undermining efforts for dialogue - Greek president

Turkey is undermining efforts for dialogue with “violations of international law and our sovereign rights”, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said on Friday.

In contrast, “Greece wants to develop good neighbourly relations with every country in the region and to stand as a pillar of stability”, she said during a meeting with China’s foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi in Athens, according to Greek newspaper Kathimerini.

14:25 – Greece demonstrates not in favour of de-escalation talks - Çavuşoğlu

Greece demonstrated that it is not in favour of dialogue with Turkey by rejecting reports of NATO-brokered talks for a de-escalation of tension in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Friday.

“By not being honest about the NATO mediation, Greece showed us once more that it is not ready for a dialogue,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters, according to state-run Anadolu news agency.

The top diplomat accused Athens of backing down from talks after agreeing to them saying that his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, turned down a proposal for “unconditional talks”.

“Greece gave NATO consent for (east Med) talks” he said, according to TRT World. “We were not surprised but Greece denied it later. It is not the NATO Secretary-General who is the liar here. Greece is lying.”

13:30 – Greek PM calls on Turkey to 'stop the provocations, start the talks'

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to “stop the provocations” in the eastern Mediterranean and “start the talks”, according to Greek newspaper Kathimerini.

“Turkey's illegal activities demand an international reaction,” the Greek premier said un a meeting with China’s foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi on Friday.

Mitsotakis also told Jiechi that Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, who heads to New York on Friday, will meet with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and deliver a letter outlining Turkey’s violations in the area, it said.