Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne speaks during a joint news conference with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, after their meeting, in Athens, on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Petros Giannakouris/AP Photo)

Canada ready to mediate between Turkey and Greece, says Champagne

Canada is ready to be “an honest broker” in the escalating dispute between Turkey and Greece over offshore exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, says Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

Champagne is in Greece for the first leg of his week-long tour of European capitals to discuss with allies the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, the war between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and the situation in Belarus.

“We have been dealing with the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean since day one,” Champagne said in an interview with Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini published on Tuesday.

“I am in contact with the secretary general of NATO to explore what possibilities there are for Canada to play a role as an honest broker.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, poses for a photo with Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, during their meeting , in Athens, on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Petros Giannakouris/AP Photo)

Champagne met with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his counterpart Nikos Dendias on Tuesday in the first such visit by a Canadian foreign affairs minister in about 30 years.

A statement by the Greek prime minister’s office said the two sides discussed “possibilities of political, economic and defence cooperation between Greece and Canada.”

Mitsotakis also raised the issue of Turkey’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean which violate Greek and Cypriot sovereignty, the Greek prime minister’s office said.

“We had a very fruitful exchange on our intention to give our bilateral relations new momentum,” Champagne tweeted following the meeting with Dendias. “We also discussed the situations in the Eastern Mediterranean, Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh, Libya and Syria.”

The meetings in Athens came as Turkey faced growing international criticism for sending a research vessel, Oruc Reis, to carry seismic testing in a disputed area off the coasts of Turkey, Cyprus and Greece.

The U.S. State Department said Tuesday it “deplores” Turkey’s Oct. 11 announcement of renewed Turkish survey activity in areas over which Greece asserts jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Turkey’s announcement unilaterally raises tensions in the region and deliberately complicates the resumption of crucial exploratory talks between our NATO allies Greece and Turkey.

“Coercion, threats, intimidation, and military activity will not resolve tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Ortagus said. “We urge Turkey to end this calculated provocation and immediately begin exploratory talks with Greece.”

Greece’s foreign ministry described on Monday the new voyage by the Oruc Reis as a “major escalation” and a “direct threat to peace in the region”. Turkey, meanwhile, accused Athens of fuelling tensions.

FILE – In this Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020 file photo, Turkey’s research vessel, Oruc Reis anchored off the coast of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey. Greece accused neighbor Turkey of undermining efforts to ease a crisis over drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean on Monday Oct. 12, 2020, after Turkey announced its survey vessel, the Oruc Reis, would be dispatched for a new research mission in disputed waters. (Burhan Ozbilici/AP Photo/File)

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Greece had no right to oppose its operations, which were 15 km from Turkey and 425 km from the Greek mainland.

The objection to Turkish exploration activities in the area is based on the “maximalist maritime jurisdiction claims of Greece,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar promised to “provide the necessary escort and protection” to Turkish vessels as needed.

Turkey’s policy in the Eastern Mediterranean is not the only area of concern for its NATO allies.

Speaking to Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday, Champagne also urged Ankara to “stay away” from the war in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces in the breakaway region.

The latest outburst of fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces began Sept. 27 and marked the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The region lies in Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a Russian-backed ceasefire in 1994.

Armenian authorities have accused Turkey of sending arms, including F-16 fighter jets and combat drones, military advisers and Syrian jihadist mercenaries to Azerbaijan to fight against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, all of which Turkey denies.

A man carries belongings from his damaged house two days after shelling by Armenian’s artillery during fighting over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in Ganja, Azerbaijan, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of attacking large cities Sunday overnight in violation of the cease-fire deal brokered by Russia that seeks to end the worst outbreak of hostilities in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region. (Ismail Coskun/IHA via AP)

Russia brokered a humanitarian ceasefire on Oct. 9 to allow Armenian and Azerbaijani forces to collect their dead, exchange prisoners and begin substantive negotiations on resolving the decades-long conflict.

However, the ceasefire never took hold with both parties accusing each other of violating it, including by shelling civilian areas. On Oct. 11, Armenia once again accused Turkey of using half a dozen F-16 fighter jets to provide air cover for Turkish- and Israeli-made drones deployed by Azerbaijan against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Two weeks ago, Champagne suspended the export of sophisticated Canadian drone technology to Turkey in response to allegations that it is being used by the Azerbaijani military against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Champagne’s next stop of his European tour is Vienna, where he has a series of meetings at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), headquartered in the Austrian capital.

The OSCE plays an important role in the search for a negotiated solution to the decades-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through its Minsk Group mechanism.

Then, Champagne will be flying to Brussels to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

While in Brussels, Champagne will also meet with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

Champagne is also planning to meet Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes before moving on to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, where he will hold a “mini-summit” with his counterparts from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

With files from Reuters

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