ANKARA – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday called for negotiations over energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean, days ahead of a European Union summit where leaders could decide to impose sanctions on Turkey.
The leaders are meeting Thursday in Brussels and will address Turkish missions to explore gas reserves in waters claimed by EU members Greece and Cyprus.
“We believe we can solve the problems of the eastern Mediterranean by not excluding each other but by bringing all the actors together around the same table,” Erdogan said in a video message to a university forum on the eastern Mediterranean Sea, a region fraught with tensions this year between rivals Greece and Turkey.
However, he said Turkey would “not accept plans and maps that aim to confine us to the shores of Antalya”, a reference to the maritime boundaries that Turkey says other countries are seeking to impose on it.
At a summit in October, European leaders warned Turkey to withdraw its energy research ships or face punitive measures.
Late last month, the Turkish seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis returned to port, as it had done before October’s EU meeting. However, another research ship, the Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, remains off Cyprus’ southwest coast.
EU foreign ministers agreed Monday that Turkey's behavior has not improved and that the two-day summit is looming as a “crucial” meeting for EU-Turkey ties.
“All of them considered that we have not seen a fundamental change of direction,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters after chairing their talks. “In several aspects the situation has worsened.”
Erdogan called for the EU to rid itself of its “strategic blindness” and not be used as a tool of Greece and Cyprus.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias last week described Turkish efforts to de-escalate the crisis as “unconvincing” and demanded action to rein in Ankara.
Tensions between NATO allies Turkey and Greece escalated over the summer with a military build-up after Turkey sent the Oruc Reis, escorted by navy frigates, into disputed waters. The move prompted Greece to also send its warships, and both countries conducted military exercises to assert their claims.
Turkey says it is standing up for its energy rights, as well as those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots while Athens and Nicosia call Turkey's actions a breach of their territorial waters.
AP writer Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed.