Turkey on Sunday said the research ship at the center of a row with Greece over energy exploration had returned to the Turkish coast but insisted the move did not mean Ankara was “giving up.”
“There will be planned movements backwards and forwards,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told state news agency Anadolu in Antalya, southern Turkey.
Akar said the movement away from contested waters did not mean Turkey “would be giving up on our rights there” during the interview broadcast live on Turkish news channels.
Tensions between Greece and Turkey escalated after the Oruc Reis research vessel backed by navy frigates was deployed to waters near the Greek island of Kastellorizo on August 10.
The mission was then extended three times despite protests from Greece and the European Union.
Athens says Ankara is violating its sovereignty by exploring in Greek waters, but Turkey insists it has rights because of its nearby coastline.
The Turkish minister lambasted Greece’s “militarization” of 18 islands, which was a “provocative” move that “increased tensions” between the neighbors.
But Akar reserved his harshest comments for French President Emmanuel Macron who has led the criticism of Turkey over its energy exploration in the region.
“It seems obvious that Mr. Macron’s policies have failed,” Akar said during his visit to the Turkish seaside town of Kas in Antalya, only two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Greek island Kastellorizo.
“The Greek people should not be overcome by Macron… or be used by him in his attempts to save himself,” the minister added.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Saturday announced a “robust” arms purchase program, which included the acquisition of French-made Rafale fight jets, as well as an overhaul of the country’s military.
Such moves were “provoked and encouraged” by Macron, Akar said, as he called for dialogue to resolve the problems.
Akar also criticized the United States’ recent lifting of a decades-old arms embargo on Cyprus, a divided island.
The northern third of Cyprus has been controlled by Turkey since a 1974 invasion following a coup aimed at unification with Greece.
“This won’t lead us to peace or a solution, it will lead us to a deadlock,” Akar said, adding the decision was “not in harmony with the spirit of alliance.”