France conducted joint military exercises with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean on Thursday as tensions rose over Turkish oil and gas exploration in disputed waters.
The French government has urged Turkey to halt “unilateral” prospecting “to allow a peaceful dialogue” with Greece, its neighbour and fellow NATO member.
The exercises came a day after President Emmanuel Macron pledged to step up his country’s military presence in the area following a telephone call with Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister.
Afterwards, Mr Mitsotakis tweeted: “Emmanuel Macron is a true friend of Greece and and a fervent defender of European values and international law.”
France has dispatched a navy frigate, the Lafayette, and two Rafale fighter jets to the southern Greek island of Crete.
Mr Macron said France was temporarily strengthening its forces “to monitor the situation in the region and mark its determination to uphold international law”.
Turkey and Greece are already at loggerheads over competing claims to natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions have been heightened by attempts by a third neighbouring country, Cyprus, which is an EU member, to explore for gas in the area.
A Turkish seismic vessel collecting data on further possible hydrocarbon reserves has been sailing between Crete and Cyprus since Monday. It was dispatched days after Greece signed a maritime agreement with Egypt designating an exclusive economic zone between the two countries.
Turkey and Greece have both signalled a willingness to resolve the dispute but vowed to defend their interests.
Hulsi Akar, the Turkish defence minister, said: “We want to believe that common sense will prevail… We side with international law, good neighbourliness and dialogue.”
This dispute has exposed cracks in the Nato military alliance, already strained by an earlier spat between France and Turkey over the Libyan civil war.
France was the only European country deemed to support renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, who is trying to oust the country’s UN-backed government.
Turkey has helped the Libyan government repel General Haftar’s offensive. Mr Macron insists that France is now neutral, but last month suspended its participation in a Nato security operation off Libya, accusing Turkey of violating an arms embargo on the North African country. France also accused Turkish warships of targeting a French vessel with their weapons systems, although Turkey said the interaction was friendly.