NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – France on Friday backed Cyprus’s calls on the European Union to consider imposing tougher sanctions on Turkey if the Turkish government does not suspend its search for energy reserves in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean where Cyprus and Greece claim exclusive economic rights.
French European Affairs Minister Clément Beaune said sanctions should be among the options the 27-member bloc plans to employ if Turkey continues to “endanger the security and sovereignty of a member state” .
“But we consider that the Union must also be ready to use all the instruments at its disposal, including that of sanctions, if the situation does not develop positively”, declared Beaune after talks with the Cypriot Minister for Foreign Affairs Nikos Christodoulides in Nicosia.
EU leaders are expected to hold a summit in a few days to discuss how to respond to Turkey’s prospecting in areas of the sea that Greece and Cyprus say are just theirs. Turkey has sparked a naval standoff with NATO-ally Greece after sending a research vessel escorted by a warship to a part of the eastern Mediterranean which Greece says lies above its Continental shelf. Greece has deployed its own warship and naval patrols in response.
Greek and Turkish military officers are also in talks at NATO Headquarters to find ways to ensure that any stalemate at sea does not turn into open conflict.
Tensions appeared to ease last week, as Greek and Turkish officials had contact after Turkey temporarily withdrew the research vessel. But Ankara has extended until mid-October the stay of another drillship, Yavuz, in an area in southeastern Cyprus that lies within the island nation’s exclusive economic zone.
The Marine Traffic vessel tracking website showed a second Turkish research vessel, Barbaros, currently in service in southern Cyprus.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had pulled the surveying vessel Oruc Reis from waters claimed by Greece for maintenance in order to give diplomacy a chance. But he warned that the ship had not finished operating and would be back.
“As soon as the repair and maintenance process is completed, Oruc Reis will return to work,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish president also said he was ready to meet with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to end the military build-up and the standoff at sea, but he warned Greece against actions that could poison the climate of negotiations.
“We have no problem with meeting Mitsotakis. But what are we going to discuss, in what framework will the discussion take place, it’s important, ”Erdogan said.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Turkey’s withdrawal of its surveillance vessel and war escorts was a positive step, but Greece needs to make sure Ankara is sincere.
He said that a list of sanctions will be presented to EU leaders at the summit next week and that their implementation will depend on Turkey’s actions.
“I hope it does not become necessary to reach this point,” said Dendias.
Turkey does not recognize ethnically divided Cyprus as a state and insists that it has every right to search for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean. He pledged to defend his legitimate rights to the region’s energy reserves, as well as those of the separatist Turkish Cypriots.
Cypriot officials insist the EU should not impose a ‘double standard’ by imposing sanctions on Belarus for electoral fraud and alleged police brutality, while avoiding doing so when Turkey continues its exploration at the expense of members of the EU.
Beaune said the EU could not accept Turkish actions and that France was “committed” to solving the problem while making its military presence felt in the eastern Mediterranean in support of its European partners.