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EU, NATO Squeeze Turkey to Back Off Greek, Cypriot Seas

Αssociated Press

Turkey s research vessel, Oruc Reis anchored off the coast of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Diplomacy is being given a chance but the European Union and NATO are pressuring Turkey to change course on plans to drill for energy off Greek islands as is already being done off Cyprus, and said readying sanctions if that fails.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pulled back the energy research vessel the Oruc Reis and warships that were near the Greek island of Kastellorizo and offered negotiations over boundaries in the East Mediterranean and Aegean.

The EU was set for a showdown with him but that was postponed to Oct. 1-2 after European Council President Charles Michel, representing the heads of the 27 member states, was put into quarantine after coming in contact with a security guard infected with COVID-19.

NATO, the defense alliance to which Greece and Turkey belong – but not Cyprus, which is a member of the EU – is holding technical talks with Greek and Turkish officials about military matters after long refusing to intervene.

Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been pushing the EU to put meaningful sanctions on Turkey for its plans – Erdogan said they are only temporarily on hold – to drill off Greek islands, including Crete.

That would be under a maritime deal with Libya unrecognized by any other country, Greece countering with a similar agreement with Egypt that led Erdogan to call off planned talks in Ankara at that time with Greek officials before now offering them.

Erdogan spoke with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, separately, ahead of the coming meeting that will involve other bloc leaders.

Von der Leyen tweeted that it was a “very useful exchange,” adding that she welcomed the planned launch of exploratory contacts with Greece, “which are essential for stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and for a constructive relationship with the EU.”

That is diplomatic boilerplate to avoid revealing details and usually indicating there was little to no progress, with Erdogan still holding to his line that Turkey has a right to seas around Greek islands.

Ironically, he said that would be under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that set borders between the countries and ceded islands to Greece, a pact he doesn't recognize unless invoking in his favor, as he does with the United Nations Law of the Sea.

The EU has been reluctant, timid even, with Erdogan, fearing he will unleash on the bloc through Greece and its islands more refugees and migrants who first went to Turkey fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands.

There's trouble for Turkey on another front. A Cypriot government spokesman, Panayiotis Sendonas,  said Von der Leyen told Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades she warned Erdogan sanctions will be coming if he doesn't back away from Cyprus too.