France steps up military presence in Mediterranean as tensions rise between Greece and Turkey

Liam James
·2-min read
Macron said France would send a Lafayette frigate (pictured) and two Rafale jets to the area: US Navy
Macron said France would send a Lafayette frigate (pictured) and two Rafale jets to the area: US Navy

France is stepping up its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean as a standoff escalates between Greece and Turkey over oil and gas exploration in disputed waters.

Two Rafale fighter jets and a Lafayette frigate arrived in Crete on Thursday morning, France's defence ministry said, as tensions simmered between the two Nato allies over contradictory claims to an area of the Mediterranean sea surrounding a Greek island which Turkey has been surveying for potential hydrocarbon exploration.

"I have decided to temporarily strengthen the French military presence in the eastern Mediterranean in the coming days, in cooperation with European partners including Greece," president Emmanuel Macron announced in a tweet on Wednesday night.

The French and Greek militaries conducted joint training exercises on the island of Crete on Thursday, Greek defence sources said.

Greece's prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis thanked Mr Macron in a tweet, calling him "a true friend of Greece but also a fervent defender of European values and international law".

Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that he would hold talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council president Charles Michel to discuss the dispute.

"The path to a solution in the eastern Mediterranean is via dialogue and negotiation," Mr Erdogan said.

Mr Macron accused Turkey of causing tensions by making "unilateral decisions" over its rights to the waters. On Monday, Turkey sent a seismic research vessel, escorted by warships, to survey the waters for potential gas and oil reserves.

The waters in question surround the small Greek island of Kastellorizo, which is located barely a mile off Turkey's southwest coast and some 354 miles from mainland Greece.

Greece's claim to the territory is supported by an agreement signed last Thursday with Egypt designating an exclusive economic zone in the area. Diplomats in Greece said this agreement nullified a similar accord signed by Turkey and Libya last year which the European Union claimed was a violation of international law.

Mr Erdogan said Turkey will maintain the earlier agreement with Libya and accused Greece of breaking promises over the dispute.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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