Erdoğan pressured to de-escalate as EU readies possible sanctions

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is under diplomatic pressure to de-escalate tensions with Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean as the European Union continued to prepare sanctions against his country.

Greece said on Wednesday that it expected the EU to approve a list of sanctions against Turkey despite the two countries agreeing to restart exploratory talks to resolve a territorial dispute.

Plans for potential sanctions were expected to be discussed at an EU summit on Sept. 24-25. However the meeting has been postponed until Oct. 1-2.

Greek government spokesperson Stelios Petsas said he expected EU leaders to adopt some proposals, the Associated Press reported.

“The question is how those sanctions will be activated in the case of Turkey’s non-compliance, because we are not used to seeing the (EU) operating on a very fast track,” he told state-run ERT television.

Turkey withdrew the navy-escorted Oruç Reis seismic research vessel from a disputed area between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete on Sept. 13, fulfilling Greece’s condition for restarting talks.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he was giving diplomacy “a chance” with Greece, but emphasised that the Oruç Reis would again be deployed, an act that had sparked a military standoff between the NATO allies in the first place.

In a telephone call with Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades on Wednesday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU would be “forced to take measures” if Turkey doesn’t end its “illegal actions” and if “there is no de-escalation of tensions”, AP cited the Cypriot government as saying in a statement.

Cyprus has threatened to block a vote on unrelated sanctions against Belarus if the EU does not approve similar measures on Turkey. The measures require the support of all 27 member states.

“The Turks are playing a clever game. Being more engaging towards Greece, they are trying to drive a wedge between the other members and us,” Reuters cited an unnamed Cypriot diplomat as saying. “We seem to have been left by the wayside.”

EU diplomats told Reuters that the bloc is unlikely to follow through with the sanctions after Athens and Ankara agreed to de-escalation talks.

The postponement of Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels has served to allow more time, the news agency cited one diplomat as saying.

The summit was postponed after European Council President Charles Michel said on Tuesday that he had been in contact with a coronavirus-positive officer and would remain in quarantine, in accordance with Belgian law.

Michel spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Erdoğan, who announced the exploratory talks following a video conference earlier on Tuesday. Germany has led diplomatic efforts to end the dispute.

In a phone call with von der Leyen on Wednesday, Erdoğan affirmed his government’s readiness to resume talks with Greece and his support for a negotiated end to the dispute, AP said.

Von der Leyen welcomed the planned launch of the Greek-Turkish talks. The negotiations “are essential for stability in the eastern Mediterranean and for a constructive relationship with the EU”, she said in a statement on Twitter.

Erdoğan also spoke with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who reiterated to the importance of dialogue and a de-escalation of tensions, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported, citing a NATO statement.

Greece and Turkey have been holding separate military-level talks at NATO’s headquarters aimed at preventing a direct armed confrontation in the eastern Mediterranean.

Stoltenberg said “good progress” had been made.

“These are technical military talks. They complement the diplomatic efforts led by Germany to resolve the underlying dispute,” AP cited Stoltenberg as saying. “The German efforts have led to an agreement yesterday to hold exploratory talks, which I welcome.”

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.