The Turkish gas and oil exploration drama in the East Mediterranean which put Greece and Cyprus on a war footing with Turkish forces has taken a surprise turn.
Amid the ratcheting pressure on Ankara over alleged incursions into Greece and Cyprus' economic zones coming from the European Union and United States, it appears Turkey has backed down for now.
Days ago France's Emmanuel Macron even invoked the threat of EU sanctions, citing that it's "not acceptable for the maritime space of a European Union member state to be violated or threatened." Turkey has frequently been source of rifts among fellow NATO member states.
For the first time, Turkey says its ambitious and expansive, but hugely controversial, gas exploration initiative is on hold. On Tuesday TRT World reports that "Turkey has said it could pause energy-exploration operations in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea for a while pending talks with Greece."
The announcement came from the office of the president, with spokesman Ibrahim Kalin revealing in a CNN Turk interview that Erdogan told his aides to "be constructive and put this on hold for some time".
He identified that the seismic exploration vessel "Oruc Reis" was set to search for hydrocarbons "180 kilometers from the island of Meis (Kastellorizo in Greek)" — an area Greece recently said it would deploy military assets to if the Turkish operation was initiated.
"Despite this our president said while the negotiations are continuing, let's be constructive and hold (energy search) for a while," the presidential spokesman said.
The Greek Navy has said it's in a state of "heightened readiness" in response to any incursion of Greece's territorial waters. It boils down to how the rival longtime enemies interpret their offshore zones, with Turkey in the past years using especially its so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" to lay claim to waters entirely surrounding the island.
Below is a Turkish interpretation of its rightful waters, within which some of Greece's easternmost islands are located:
Likely helping Turkey to hit the pause button was a forceful message out of US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt earlier this week: "I want to echo the clear message from Washington and elsewhere in Europe, urging Turkish authorities to halt operations that raise tensions in the region, such as plans to survey for natural resources in areas where Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean," he said.
Pompeo also earlier this month asserted that the US clearly backed Greece, Cyprus, and the EU's interpretation of the economic zones and Turkish violations of that territory.