Turkey-Greece spat has caused rifts in NATO, EU - reports

(Updates with Jens Stoltenberg's comments in paragraph 16)

U.S. President Donald Trump urged the leaders of NATO allies Turkey and Greece in separate phone calls on Wednesday to step back from confrontation in the eastern Mediterranean and to "commit to dialogue."

“President Trump reaffirmed that Greece and Turkey must commit to dialogue, which is the only path to resolving their differences,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said on Twitter.

The phone calls came amid high tensions between the two neighbouring countries due to disputes over natural gas exploration rights and maritime borders in the Mediterranean.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he had told Trump that Athens is ready for "significant de-escalation" in the eastern Mediterranean provided Turkey halts its "provocative actions," Kathimerini reported.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he had told Trump in their call that Turkey proved with "concrete actions" that it wants to reduce tensions and establish dialogue, Anadolu news agency reported. 

The calls with Trump came after Erdoğan had upped the ante earlier on Wednesday by warning Greece that the country could confront Turkey, if it “wants to pay the price."

“Turkey will take what is its right in the Mediterranean, in the Aegean and in the Black Sea,” Erdoğan said.

Also on Wednesday, it emerged from an open mic exchange in Berlin between the high representative of the European Union, Josep Borrell, and German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold talks with Erdoğan on Friday.

According to the CNBC, the spat has caused a rift in NATO, and within Europe, with the U.S. reportedly conducting naval exercises with Turkey, while France has conducted drills with Greece

"Turkish frigates TCG Barbaros and TCG Burgazada have conducted maritime training with American destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill in the Eastern Mediterranean on Aug. 26," the Turkish defense ministry announced in a tweet.

“And with the case of France and Turkey, we are witnessing some kind of escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean so I think the real political conversation between Jens Stoltenberg and Chancellor Merkel will be more about how do we solve these political issues between our member states,” he told CNBC. 

New York Times reported on Thursday, the spat has caused a split in the EU as well on how to tackle the crisis. France, Greece and Cyprus want a tough line, while Germany, Spain and Italy favor a more conciliatory approach.

EU defense ministers will meet this week to discuss the very same issue. New York Times said:

"Led by Greece, Cyprus and France, some E.U. members want sweeping new sanctions, and the bloc’s foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, will present options for discussion in Berlin. But Germany, which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, is eager to present some incentive to Turkey in return for de-escalation."

Meanwhile, according to DW, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, during a speech at the EU Defence Ministers meeting on Wednesday, said Turkey continued to block a potential cooperation between NATO and EU to reinforce the arms embargo on Libya, which is called ''Sea Guardian.'' Stoltenberg added that NATO would continue to explore other options to find ways to work together. 

Ankara’s military support – including drones, intelligences and logistics, and a supply of arms and Islamist Syrian mercenaries – had turned the tide in the fight for the Government of National Accord (GNA) in a pushback against the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).