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EU to give dialogue another chance in Turkey row over Mediterranean resources but also draw up list of potential sanctions

The European Union on August 28 told Turkey it wished to give dialogue another chance in resolving Ankara’s energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean that Greece and Cyprus say has infringed on their territory, but at the same time it would draw up a package of sanctions that could be introduced if the situation was not resolved satisfactorily.

“We must walk a fine line between preserving a true space for dialogue and, at the same time, showing collective strength in the defence of our [member states’] common interest,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after a meeting of foreign ministers from across the bloc in Berlin, adding: “We want to give a serious chance to dialogue.”

“Turkey has to abstain from unilateral actions,” Borrell also told reporters. “There is a growing frustration in the face of Turkey’s behaviour.”

“The EU’s resort to a language of sanctions, while Turkey always underlines dialogue and diplomacy [will see the current problems deteriorate],” the Turkish Foreign Ministry responded following the Berlin meeting. “Such language will only strengthen Turkey’s determination.”

Borrell said he would begin compiling a list of possible penalties that would be directed at individuals. They could be upgraded to include assets and ships and a restriction of Turkish access to European ports and supplies, he added. EU leaders would discuss the eventual list in September if there isn’t diplomatic progress in dealing with the row.

In February, the bloc directed asset freezes and travel bans at two employees of Turkish Petroleum Corporation in a response to energy exploration conducted by Turkey off Cyprus. Since then, Turkey has greatly intensified its exploration, disputing the assertions of Cyprus and Greece as to the geographical locations of their continental shelves.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay at the weekend warned Greece that any attempt by Athens expand its territorial waters in the Aegean Sea would justify a declaration of war, according to comments carried by Turkish state-run news service Anadolu Agency.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry angrily responded: “Turkey’s unprecedented perception that it can threaten its neighbouring countries with the use of force when they exercise their legal rights runs counter to modern political culture but also to fundamental provisions of international law. The exercise of Greek sovereign rights is not subject to any form of Turkish veto.”

France has in recent weeks sent military assets into the eastern Mediterranean to show solidarity with Greece and Cyprus and warn Turkey off more gas and oil exploration incursions.

“When it comes to Mediterranean sovereignty, I have to be consistent in deeds and words,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at a news conference held after the Berlin meeting. “I can tell you that the Turks only consider and respect that. If you say words that are not followed by acts...What France did this summer was important: it’s a red line policy. I did it in Syria,” Reuters reported him as also remarking,  referring to French air strikes against suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria.

Macron said he had been firm, but restrained. “It was proportionate. We didn’t send an armada,” he said. “I don’t consider that in recent years Turkey’s strategy is the strategy of a Nato ally ... when you have a country which attacks the exclusive economic zones or the sovereignty of two members of the European Union,” he also said, describing Turkey’s actions as provocations.

Macron added: “What would our credibility be in handling Belarus if we did not react to attacks on the sovereignty of our own members?”