France suspending role in NATO naval mission after warship incident  – French official

(Updates with statements from French foreign minister and ministry official)

France has informed NATO it will suspend its involvement in a naval operation that led to an incident between Turkish and French warships in the Mediterranean last month, an official from the French Armed Forces Ministry told Reuters on Wednesday.

The statement comes after a NATO investigation into the June 10 incident failed to back France’s claims that Turkish frigates escorting a cargo ship exercised “extreme aggression” towards a French warship enforcing a U.N. arms embargo on Libya.

The French Courbet frigate was operating in Operation Sea Guardian, a NATO mission to maintain security in the Mediterranean.

“While waiting to move ahead on these demands, we have decided to temporarily withdraw our assets from Operation Sea Guardian,” the official said.” It doesn’t make sense to keep our assets... with allies who do not respect the embargo.”

The official said a letter sent to the military alliance on Tuesday listed demands aimed to prevent similar incidents between NATO countries before France would return to the Mediterranean mission.

Turkish ambassador to Paris İsmail Hakkı Musa had told French lawmakers earlier Wednesday that France intended to withdraw from Operation Sea Guardian.

“It seems that the NATO experts did not reach the same conclusion. I had the information yesterday, it seems that the Courbet is withdrawing from this NATO exercise,” Reuters reported Musa as saying during a hearing in the French Senate.

Musa denied France’s version of events and told senators that it was the Courbet that had been aggressive.

Analysts did not see the June 10 event as an isolated incident since NATO allies Turkey and France support rival factions in the Libyan conflict, exchanging blame for the instability in war-torn North African country.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday that European Union could consider new sanctions on Ankara in a meeting with bloc's foreign ministers on July 13.

“At our request there will be a meeting of EU foreign ministers on July 13 solely on the Turkish question,” Reuters quoted Jean-Yves Le Drian as telling a parliamentary hearing. “Sanctions have already been taken on Turkey by the EU over Turkey’s drilling in the Cyprus economic zone. Other sanctions may be envisaged.”