Turkey must stop drilling for natural resources in waters in the eastern Mediterranean if there is to be progress in EU-Turkey ties, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said during a visit to Athens on Tuesday.
Maas, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, was meeting in Athens with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, as well as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week that Turkey would start seismic research and drilling operations in contested waters that are covered by an agreement between Ankara and Libya's UN-recognised government in Tripoli.
"Regarding Turkey's drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, we have a very clear position - international law must be respected so progress in EU-Turkey relations is only possible if Ankara stops provocations in the eastern Mediterranean," Maas said in an effort to head off a potential crisis with neighboring Greece.
Late last year, the EU imposed economic sanctions on Turkey for drilling off the coast of Cyprus.
NATO allies Greece and Turkey are at odds over drilling rights in the region, with the EU 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.
"At the same time, within the European Union we see the need to engage in dialogue with Turkey," Maas said.
Greece is hoping Germany will use its influence with Turkey to press for progress in negotiations.
Earlier this month, Germany hosted unannounced talks with Greek and Turkish officials to try and restart discussions.
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. Athens rejects the argument as being in clear violation of international law.
Greece is pressing other EU member states to prepare ``crippling sanctions against Turkey if it proceeds with its oil-and-gas exploration plans which are expected to start in September, according to Turkey's state-run oil company, TPAO.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell last week said he would launch an initiative to engage Turkey in talks, citing ``worrying developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and the civil war in Libya.