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Politics

Greece Puts Turkey in Hot Seat for EU Showdown Over Seas Dispute

ATHENS — Turkey is likely facing sanctions at a European Council meeting over provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, which had been demanded by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

He had withdrawn them to give diplomacy a chance in the dispute with Turkey over seas boundaries that saw Turkey send an energy research vessel and warships off the island of Kastellorizo, only to withdraw them, then send them back, and now pulling them out again ahead of the Dec. 10-11 showdown.

EU foreign ministers said two months of waiting for Turkey to try to negotiate differences with Greece had gone nowhere, with Mitsotakis expected to put sanctions back on the table at the critical meeting.

The EU has waffled repeatedly though, wary that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would, as he warned, flood the bloc through Greece and its islands with more refugees and migrants who had gone to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their homelands, and economic hardships in other regions.

The foreign ministers wouldn't take a stand on sanctions, saying cautiously only that Turkey had aggravated tensions since the last big EU meeting in October that saw no action.

“Unhappily, we haven’t seen much progress or improvement since the last European Council,” the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell told reporters, referring to the Oct. 1-2 meeting, reported the news agency Reuters.

“We have not seen a fundamental change of direction in Turkey’s behavior. On the contrary, in several aspects the situation has worsened,” said Borrell, who led the meeting delicately.

Turkey said it has rights in the seas, even around Greek islands, under a maritime deal with Libya that no other country recognizes, Greece countering with a similar agreement with Egypt that broke off any chance of talks.

But Turkey has found support from Germany – home to 2.774 million people of Turkish origin and a major seller of arms and submarine components to to Turkey, which Greece wants stopped. Germany hasn't backed sanctions.

The EU also is anxious about Erdogan opening a beach front in the abandoned resort of Varosha on the northern third of Cyprus that Turkey has occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion, as he also ignores soft EU sanctions over Turkish ships drilling for oil and gas in Cypriot waters.

Erdogan said his country would not “bow down to threats and blackmail” but repeated his call for negotiations over the conflicting claims to continental shelves and rights to potential energy resources, the news agency said.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias tweeted that “Turkey’s stance is a challenge to the Union as a whole,” after Turkey complained that the EU was unfairly backing Greece and Cyprus, members of the bloc that Turkey has been trying to join since 2005.

Tensions rose when Erdogan sent the research vessel the Oruc Reis and warships off Kastellorizo, bringing the Greek navy to shadow them and bringing fears of a shooting conflict.

Germany, current holder of the EU’s rotating six-month symbolic presidency, is the key to whether sanctions will proceed – whether to support Mitsotakis or embolden Erdogan.

“There will be a decision at the summit,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after the meeting. “There have been repeated Turkish provocations. So the EU summit will have to decide how to handle this,” he said, although in the past that has led only to further delays, letting Erdogan play for time.

The  Oruc Reis, returned to port again, cheered by the EU and NATO, the defense alliance to which Greece and Turkey belong, but  European Council President Charles Michel warned Turkey not to play “cat and mouse” by returning exploration ships to port just before EU summits, only to redeploy them after they had finished, which has worked so far for Erdogan.

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