Turkish gas exploration ship leaves the east Mediterranean

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Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis returned to Turkey’s Antalya port on Sunday, a move that Greece said was a positive first step to ease tensions over gas exploration rights in the East Mediterranean.

“The return of the Oruc Reis is a positive first step, I hope there will be continuity. We want to talk with Turkey but in a climate without provocations,” Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, told reporters in Thessaloniki.

But Turkish Defence Minister, Hulusi Akar, played down the significance of the move, saying the ship had returned to shore as part of scheduled plans and insisted it did not mean Ankara was “giving up our rights there.”

In this photo taken Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, Turkey’s research vessel, Oruc Reis, center, is surrounded by Turkish navy vessels as it was heading in the west of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey. Photo: IHA via AP.

“There will be planned movements backwards and forwards,” Akar told state news agency Anadolu in Antalya, southern Turkey, on Sunday.

Tensions flared last month between Turkey and Greece after Ankara sent Oruc Reis to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects in waters claimed by Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.

Ankara faces potential sanctions from the European Union, which fully supports member states Greece and Cyprus, over the dispute. But many states, including Germany, want to defuse the stand-off through dialogue.

“A sanctions list exists as an option [against Turkey]. Our desire is not to see it implemented but it will be done if we see that the other side is not returning to the path of logic,” Mitsotakis said.

READ MORE: EU threaten Turkey with sanctions if ships don’t withdraw from Greek waters.

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