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As EU Eases Sanctions Talk, Turkey Takes Shots at Greece Again

Αssociated Press

FILE- Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar addresses a meeting of his country's ambassadors, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. (Turkish Defence Ministry via AP, Pool)

ATHENS - Signaling that Turkey is too important diplomatically and as a trade partner to punish, the European Union reportedly won’t consider sanctions for its plans to hunt for oil and gas off Greek islands.

That saw Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar blame Greece again of being the provocateur over tension, two days after a 62nd round of exploratory talks between officials from both countries in Athens.

“The military exercises conducted by Greece, which aim to provoke (Turkey,), are escalating the tension,” he said, in reference to Greece keeping troops on Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast and refusing to remove them and the Greek Navy docking ships at ports there.

Akar also assailed Greece of what he called its “groundless” claims regarding continental shelf rights and its “unreasonable demands in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean,” where Turkey is also claiming waters.

“We cannot accept such provocative actions and such threatening language,” he said, reported Kathimerini, adding that Greece’s build-up of arms, including fighter jets and warships is a “pipe dream” and that, “it makes no mathematical sense.”

“This will cause great harm to the Greek people,” Akar said, Turkey apparently emboldened after the EU said it wouldn’t confront Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even as Turkey also continues to drill in Cypriot waters.

He also accused Greece of seeking to turn bilateral problems with Turkey into EU-Turkey and US-Turkey problems. “This is neither lawful, nor moral,” he said, while urging Greece to recognize and respect Turkey’s rights in the region.

That came after the EU froze plans to sanction more senior executives at Turkey’s state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO), four diplomats told the paper, showing Turkey’s charm offensive has won over the bloc.

EU leaders in December had proposed asset freezes and travel bans over Turkey’s “unauthorized drilling activities” for natural gas in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean, although they did not specify individuals.

The EU’s leaders are due to meet March 25-26 and the paper indicated that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has also pulled back from his demand for sanctions in favor of more diplomacy that keeps failing.

Erdogan said at any rate that he would proceed with drilling plans although he had pulled out a research vessel and warships from the Greek island of Kastellorizo to avoid talk of sanctions before the EU conceded.

Her country holding 2.775 million people of Turkish heritage and selling arms to Turkey, German Chancellor Angela Merkel wouldn’t back sanctions and tilted toward Erdogan.

“Work has stopped on additional blacklistings of Turkish individuals, and we are not talking of economic sanctions anymore,” one EU diplomat not named told the paper while a second said that “never really took off” and a third said “the diplomatic track is being prioritized”

Merkel, who is expected to step down later this year after 16 years as German leader, favored an approach that prioritizes EU investment in Turkey, and both Mitsotakis and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed, the diplomats had also said.