By Associated Press - Wednesday, July 22, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Turkey on Wednesday rejected claims by Greece that its oil-and-gas research vessels were encroaching on Greek waters in the eastern Mediterranean and said it would continue to defend its legitimate rights and interests in the region.

A Foreign Ministry statement, however, also renewed a call by Ankara for dialogue to resolve the dispute between the two NATO allies.

Turkey announced plans Tuesday to dispatch search vessels into disputed waters in the Mediterranean, raising tensions between the neighbors and ignoring calls from European nations to avoid the action. Turkish authorities said the research vessel Oruc Reis and two support vessels would carry out operations through Aug. 2 in waters south of the Greek islands of Rhodes, Karpathos and Kastelorizo.

State-run television in Greece said the country’s armed forces had been placed on a state of readiness.

An overnight statement by the Greek foreign ministry called the Turkish notification “illegal,” while authorities there issued a counter-notification declaring the Turkish navy’s notice for seismic survey in the area as “invalid.”

NATO allies Greece and Turkey are at odds over drilling rights in the region, with the European Union and the United States increasingly critical of Ankara’s plans to expand exploration and drilling operations in the coming weeks into areas Athens claims as its own.

Turkey has accused Greece of trying to exclude it from the benefits of oil and gas finds in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, arguing that sea boundaries for commercial exploitation should be divided between the Greek and Turkish mainland and not include the Greek islands on an equal basis.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry denounced what it called a “maximalist continental shelf claim,” insisting that they were “against international law, legal precedent and court decisions.”

The ministry statement added that the maritime area where Oruc Reis would conduct research was “within the limits of the continental shelf that our country has notified to the United Nations.” It said an exploration license was given to the Turkish state-run oil company, TPAO, in 2012.

Greece is pressing other EU member states to prepare “crippling sanctions″ against Turkey if it proceeds with the oil-and-gas exploration plans.

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