Spain seeks to improve ties with Turkey after opposing sanctions in Med dispute

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he is working to enhance bilateral ties with Turkey, characterising the country as a strategic partner, the Daily Sabah newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Spain is one of the countries that opposed a proposal in December by Greece, Cyprus and France to impose EU sanctions on Turkey, including an arms embargo, over a territorial dispute in the eastern Mediterranean. Spain, along with Germany and Italy, advocated dialogue instead.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, speaking on a visit to Spain in early January, thanked his Spanish counterpart for Madrid’s support.

Sanchez repeated Spain’s willingness to engage in constructive talks with Turkey at a conference in Madrid on Monday. 

“Turkey is a strategic partner of the European Union and a NATO ally,” he said.  

Sanchez said his administration will hold an intergovernmental meeting with Turkey this year.

Turkey is embroiled in a territorial spat with Greece and Cyprus over offshore energy resources. The Greek and Cypriot governments say that the islands in the Mediterranean have their own continental shelves granting them extensive exploration rights, a claim Turkey contests.

Çavuşoğlu, speaking on Monday during a visit by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, said the political atmosphere between Turkey and the EU was improving.

Turkey, which does not recognise Cyprus as a state, claims half of the country’s exclusive economic zone on behalf of a breakaway Turkish Cypriot enclave in the north of the island. It has repeatedly carried out warship-escorted offshore drilling in its environs. Turkey is the only country to recognise the north of Cyprus as a state.

Turkey has also sent seismic research vessels close to Greek islands, prompting Greece to send warships to the area.

At a December summit, EU leaders agreed to impose sanctions on Turkish individuals involved in the gas drilling activities but stopped short of targeting the Turkish economy or government directly.

Turkey and Greece are due to hold bilateral talks to resolve their differences over sea boundaries next week, though the two sides have yet to agree on the scope of the discussions.