ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkey was ready to meet Greece’s leader to resolve the standoff over energy exploration in contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean. The search for gas and oil in the region has sparked a row that has seen the two NATO neighbours stage rival air and navy drills in strategic waters between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.

“Could there be a meeting with Greek Prime Minister (Kyriakos) Mitsotakis? What’s essential is what we discuss and in what framework,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul after Friday prayers. “We can meet if there is goodwill. We can talk via videoconference or meet in a third country,” Erdogan said, adding that Turkey would not be the party fleeing the table.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu later on Friday said the Greek ambassador Michael-Christos Diamessi was summoned to the foreign ministry in Ankara over an item in Dimokratia newspaper, seen atop its website. The words “Siktir Git Mr. Erdogan,” which means “f… ..f” in Turkish, appeared next to a photo of the president in the Greek newspaper. It also appeared in English. “A Greek newspaper had a vile front page,” Cavusoglu said in Ankara. “We summoned the Greek ambassador to the ministry,” he added, quoted by state news agency Anadolu.

In Athens, the Greek foreign ministry said: “Freedom of expression and freedom of the Press are fully protected in Greece. – ‘Refrain from insulting’ leader
“This fact does not negate the obligation to refrain from insulting the personality of any individual, particularly a foreign leader,” the Greek ministry added. “The use of offensive language is contrary to our country’s political culture and can only be condemned.” At the centre of the Greece-Turkey row was Ankara’s deployment last month of a seismic research vessel, the Oruc Reis, and an accompanying fleet of warships in disputed waters near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

Turkish officials ended the month-long mission and ordered the vessel back to shore last weekend for maintanance and replenishment. Erdogan also signalled that Oruc Reis would return to its work, while also saying that its withdrawal was deliberate. “If we pulled Oruc Reis back to the port for maintenance, it has a meaning,” he said. “It means ‘let’s give a chance to diplomacy, let’s show a positive approach’.”

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Prague on Friday said Greece believed “a dialogue should start and that international law should not be violated. Of course in this area nobody should try to prevail by force.” He added Greece was “always open to a dialogue with Turkey as regards coastal waters in the exclusive economic zone, provided that Turkey stops its provocative acts in the area.” Turkey’s Yavuz drillship, meanwhile, will continue it search for oil and gas off Cyprus until October 12 despite international calls to withdraw.

Ankara’s dispute with Athens has sparked a crisis that has drawn in some EU member states, particularly France which sent navy vessels and fighter jets to the region in support of Greece. EU leaders are due to discuss possible sanctions against Ankara at their meeting on September 24-25.

“We would like our partners and friends in the EU to draft a list of sanctions which should not be imposed on Turkey immediately but rather serve as an example of sanctions that could be imposed on Turkey if it doesn’t stop its unlawful acts,” Dendias said. – AFP