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Erdogan says Turkey withdrew survey vessel to allow for diplomacy

Credit: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER

Turkey recalled an oil and gas exploration vessel from disputed eastern Mediterranean waters to allow for diplomacy with Greece but Turkey's work in the region is not finished, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

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ANKARA, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Turkey recalled an oil and gas exploration vessel from disputed eastern Mediterranean waters to allow for diplomacy with Greece but Turkey's work in the region is not finished, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

NATO members Turkey and Greece bitterly disagree over maritime jurisdiction and energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean and tensions flared last month when Turkey sent Oruc Reis to waters also claimed by Greece.

On Sunday the Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel returned to port for what Ankara called routine maintenance, a move Greece said was a positive first step in easing tensions.

"Let's give diplomacy a chance, let's put forth a positive approach for diplomacy. Greece should also positively meet this approach of ours, and let's take a step accordingly," Erdogan said in Istanbul after Friday prayers. "This is why we did it."

"But this does not mean that because Oruc Reis was pulled back for maintenance, our seismic activities will fully stop," he told reporters. "Once the maintenance period is finished, Oruc Reis will go back to its operations again and continue its work there."

Erdogan said he was ready to discuss the issue with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in person or via videoconference.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that maintenance work on Oruc Reis may take "a few weeks".

Turkish and Greek officials have been holding talks at NATO to avoid military accidents, after a minor collision of warships last month. They have held four meetings but Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, in an interview with British broadcaster Channel 4, on Friday accused Greece of slowing down discussions by imposing pre-conditions.

European Union leaders will evaluate possible sanctions against Turkey at a summit on Sept. 24-25. Germany wants more time for talks with Turkey while France, Cyprus and Greece demand a punitive response.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu Editing by Ece Toksabay and Dominic Evans)

((tuvan.gumrukcu@tr.com; +90 312 292 7021; @tuvangumrukcu; Reuters Messaging: tuvan.gumrukcu.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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