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Politics

As EU Fiddles Over Turkey, Greece Wants Deeds, Not Words

Greece's Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias wants other European Union foreign chiefs, who backed away from confronting Turkey in an earlier teleconference, to step up and do something when they take up the issue again.

“This escalation of Turkish aggression is directed against the European Union, and consequently, there should be an escalation of the European reaction to counter it,” he said after talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides. 

That was in reference to Turkey provoking a near-conflict in the East Mediterranean where it sent an energy research vessel and 10 warships near the Greek island of Kastellorizo, planning to drill for oil and gas there.

Greece responded by sending some of its fleet as a deterrent and a standoff has remained after a Greek warship being blocked by a Turkish vessel, veered off and hit the Turkish frigate in the stern, causing damage but no shots were exchanged.

The EU, fearful that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will again flood the bloc with refugees and migrants through Greek islands, has been reluctant to issue sanctions and imposed only mild penalties exempting him for Turkish ships drilling in the waters off Cyprus, a member state.

Dendias criticized Turkey’s deployment of warships to support a Turkish research vessel engaged in an “illegal” hydrocarbons search in waters where EU members Greece and Cyprus claim Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) rights.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is expected to present to the foreign ministers of the bloc’s 27 member nations a list of options for new possible sanctions against Turkey, he said, which haven't worked yet.

It will be taken up when the leaders of the seven Mediterranean countries in the EU meet in September and then at a full EU leaders’ summit.

Turkey’s actions are “an escalation and an unacceptable militarization” that “betray the dead-end nature of its own choices,” Dendias said, the EU dithering over a response.

Greece has deployed its own warships to the area between Cyprus and the island of Crete where Turkey restarted prospecting for oil and gas this month. The Greek and Turkish navies have been shadowing each other in a high-stakes game of brinkmanship.

Greece and Cyprus say Turkey’s moves breach international law and flout repeated EU and US calls to cease and desist but Turkey cited the United Nations Law of the Sea – which it doesn't other recognize – in asserting its claims.

Turkey also said it's defending the rights of Turkish-Cypriots occupying the northern third of Cyprus since an unlawful 1974 invasion although they rejected an offer from Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to share 30 percent of potentially lucrative energy revenues.

Christodoulides said EU members agree the developments in the seas could determine the fate of relations with Turkey, which has been trying since 2005 to join the bloc, hopes fading away after Erdogan – following a failed 2016 coup attempt – began jailing journalists and purging civil society, the military, courts, and the education system.

In a further provocation along with repeatedly sending fighter jets and warships to violate Greek airspace and waters, he had the ancient church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople turned into a mosque to loud applause by zealous followers.

Turkey is making claims to Greece's Continental Shelf and EEZ under a maritime deal with Libya dividing the seas between them, Greece countering with a similar deal with Egypt, infuriating Erdogan. 

Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus, bars its ships and planes and claims 44% of the EEZ, with Turkish-Cypriots said they also own a big chunk, nearly shutting out the legitimate government that's licensed foreign companies to drill.

Christodoulides said Cyprus supports a “carrot and stick” approach to the EU’s relations with Turkey, one in which cooperation is counterbalanced by “a substantive reaction” when EU principles are violated, but the bloc's leaders have offered a big carrot salad in benefits and twigs in deterrents.

“We’re always in favor of dialogue, but dialogue can’t take place if it isn’t in line with international law, the law of the sea and good neighborly relations,” Dendias said, an approach that has failed so far.

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

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