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France warns Turkey of EU sanctions over 'provocations'

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — France warned Turkey on Thursday that it could face European Union sanctions for its “provocations,” after Ankara redeployed its search vessel on a new energy exploration mission in the eastern Mediterranean.

Speaking in Paris after a meeting of the French-German-Polish ‘Weimar Triangle,’ French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reiterated the EU stance that unless Turkey shows “respect for the integrity of Greece and Cyprus” then the December European Council will consider initiating sanctions.

“We are forced to note that there are permanent acts of provocation on the part of Turkey which are not bearable, and therefore we really wish that Turkey clarifies its positions and returns to a spirit of dialogue,” he said.

Turkey redeployed its search vessel, Oruc Reis, near the Greek island of Kastellorizo, reigniting tensions between Greece and Turkey over sea boundaries and energy drilling rights, and putting the future of the planned resumption of talks between Athens and Ankara to resolve disputes into doubt. Those talks were last held in 2016.

Those tensions had flared up over the summer, triggering fears of a confrontation between the two historic rivals and NATO allies. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he understood Greece’s unwillingness to engage in dialogue due to Turkey’s decision to again dispatch its ship.

Given Berlin’s efforts to mediate between the parties “the behavior by Turkey to conduct another provocation, resulting in the already agreed process of dialogue not taking place, is more than annoying, including for us in our role as intermediary,” Maas said.

Maas said he continues to believe the conflict can be solved through dialogue and not with naval ships, and stressed Germany’s hope that there might be progress next week. “And if there isn’t, then the European Union will have to face the question of how to deal with this and what consequences this will have,” Maas said.

Commenting on his arrival for a EU summit in Brussels, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he would inform his colleagues “about Turkey’s new provocations against Greece and against Cyprus."

“Unfortunately Turkey appears to remain constant in its provocative and aggressive behavior," he said. "The European Union must also show the same consistency regarding the implementation of decisions it has taken, in order for this behavior, if it continues, to have the corresponding consequences.”

Both Turkey and Greece have this week accused each other of engaging in “provocations," including plans to hold military drills in the Aegean Sea later this month to coincide with the other country's national public holiday. Turkey also drew international criticism this week for its decision to open the beachfront of the fenced-off suburb of Varosha in divided Cyprus’ breakaway Turkish Cypriot north.

Varosha remained off-limits and in Turkish military control after its Greek Cypriot residents fled before advancing troops in 1974 when Turkey invaded and sliced the island along ethnic lines following a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Earlier on Thursday, Turkey denied accusations by Greece that Ankara refused an overflight permit to a plane carrying Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, forcing the aircraft to remain in the air for 20 minutes.

Greek state broadcaster ERT reported that the plane carrying Dendias back from a visit to Baghdad the previous day was kept circling over Mosul for 20 minutes because Turkish authorities weren't granting it permission to fly through Turkish airspace back to Greece.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry denied any deliberate move to hold up the plane before entering the Turkish airspace, insisting the plane hadn't provided the required flight plan. According to the Turkish ministry, the plane that took Dendias to Iraq broke down there, and the Greek government then allocated a second plane, which took off without the required flight plan.

“When the aforementioned aircraft arrived at our airspace, the plan was urgently requested from the Iraqi authorities, and after the plan was received, the flight was carried out safely,” the ministry said.

Asked about the incident during a regular briefing, the Greek government spokesman, Stelios Petsas, said Athens had lodged a complaint over the incident. “It is one more provocation, in the continued provocations by the Turkish side,” Petsas said. “But I would like to remain on the fact that various explanations were given, also from the Turkish side, and we hope that this phenomenon and this incident is never repeated in the future.”

Frank Jordans reported from Berlin. Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.

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