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Greece Wants EU Full-Court Press on Turkey, EU Backs Off

Αssociated Press

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok, left, speaks with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Europa building in Brussels, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS - With Turkey seizing Cypriot waters and making a deal with Libya to carve up much of the waters between them - including Greek territory - Greece wants a reluctant European Union to get tougher to stop it.

The EU had issued soft sanctions over Turkish energy ships drilling off Cyprus where the legitimate government got international warrants for the arrest of the crews but didn’t enforce them.

But the bloc’s leaders, fearing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will make good on a threat to send millions more refugees and migrants to the bloc - through Greek islands - has backed away from confronting him, with two EU commissioners returning from a trip to Turkey empty-handed and even thanking Turkey for hospitality.

With Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis insisting that diplomacy and “goodwill” will get Erdogan to bend - the Turkish leader hasn’t - Greece is switching tactics and trying to isolate Turkey internationally, said Kathimerini.

That includes trying to force annulment of the Turkish-Libyan maritime boundary accord that challenges Greek sovereignty, with Greece expelling Libya’s ambassador to no avail as Erdogan keeps going full speed ahead with a strategy of ignoring criticism.

Mitsotakis is expected to step up Greek demands about about the agreement Turkish violations in the Eastern Mediterranean, at a European Union leaders’ summit, the paper said in a report on the growing tension.

Greece wants a meeting of EU leaders to lead to a condemnation of Turkey and is looking at making an official complaint to the United Nations which has refused to react to pleas from Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to stop Turkish drilling off the island’s coast.

Greece and Cyprus have gotten backing from the United States, Russia, Israel and Egypt to no avail and as relations between Greece and Turkey are beginning to show signs of deteriorating, including worries there could be a shooting conflict.

Greece has warships off Crete, with Turkey and Libya claiming waters there with Greek military officials not ruling around forcefully stopping any Turkish or Libyan ships from trying to operate there.

Mitsotakis told Erdogan that Turkey’s deal with Libya was a “crude violation of Greece’s rights” and that neither he, nor the EU, would accept it, Kathimerini said, although neither Greece nor the EU have acted to stop him. EU foreign ministers on Dec. 9 took up the issue but the new European Commissioner overseeing that portfolio, Joseph Borrell of Spain, immediately signaled the bloc wasn't ready to take on Erdogan just yet.

“It’s not a matter of sanctions today.,” he said, indicating that the ministers needed time to study the Turkey-Libya deal in a sign the dilemma would be kicked down the road instead of being dealt with quickly as Mitsotakis wanted.

Still, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said, “It’s a little bit astounding how they split up the Mediterranean among themselves. We’ll have to see how we deal with it,” falling in line with EU policy of treading softly instead of acting.

“The Netherlands is always a staunch supporter of the rule of international law, and we side with Greece,” said Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok. “International law should be upheld.”

Although they are NATO allies, neighbors Greece and Turkey are divided by a series of decades-old issues, including territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea, and have come to the brink of war three times since the 1970s, including once over drilling rights in the Aegean.

In January, a French-flagged research vessel is scheduled to start exploration between southwestern Crete and eastern Rhodes, a major Greek island close to Turkey after Erdogan had said previously he openly covets the return of islands ceded away in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he won’t recognize as legitimate.

Greek officials are said to be anxious that Turkey might send an energy research vessel into Greek waters east of Crete or south of Rhodes or Kastellorizo, which could force a military response or else let Turkey take what it wants.

Greece said the Turkey-Libya agreement is illegal and “absurd” as it ignores the presence of Crete between the coastlines of the two countries and while Turkey’s Parliament, controlled by Erdogan has ratified it, there’s been no response yet from Libya.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)