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European leaders differ on dealing with Ankara … a Turkish-Greek agreement to avoid military confrontations in the Mediterranean

NATO announced today that Greece and Turkey have reached an agreement on a mechanism to end the military clashes between them in the Eastern Mediterranean region, while the statements of European Union leaders meeting today in Brussels regarding imposing sanctions on Turkey, due to its activities to explore oil and gas in disputed areas On it in the eastern Mediterranean.

A statement by NATO said that the Turkish and Greek military delegations had reached – after a series of technical meetings inside the NATO headquarters in the Belgian capital, Brussels – an agreement on a bilateral military mechanism to resolve disputes.

This mechanism aims to reduce risks, accidents and military confrontations in the eastern Mediterranean, and also includes establishing a hotline between Greece and Turkey to facilitate conflict resolution at sea or in the air.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the agreement, and said that the understanding on the dispute settlement mechanism was made thanks to the constructive commitment of Turkey and Greece (the two countries of the alliance), and the NATO official said that this mechanism would allow creating a space for diplomatic efforts to address differences.

In the same context, the Turkish Ministry of Defense stated – in a statement – that a meeting will be held on the fifth of this month at NATO headquarters to discuss the technical details of the coordination mechanism to avoid clashes.

Background of the talks
One of the motives behind the Greek-Turkish military talks was a minor collision between two Turkish and Greek frigates weeks ago, and an increase in military maneuvers by the two countries’ navies in the Mediterranean.

In the past few months, tension and exchange of accusations have escalated between Turkey on the one hand, and Greece on the other hand, supported by European countries, led by France, regarding the maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean region, which in recent years has witnessed the discovery of huge reserves of natural gas.

And while Turkey says it will defend its maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean, demanding that the borders with Greece and Cyprus be demarcated in a fair way; Greece and Cyprus accuse Turkey of violating their maritime areas of influence by sending ships to seismic searches for energy resources.

European summit

Before the start of the special European summit today in Brussels, French President Emmanuel Macron said that the European Union countries should show solidarity with Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean crisis, and Macron stressed that this solidarity “is not subject to negotiation.” “When a member state of the European Union is attacked and threatened, and its territorial waters are not respected, it is the duty of the Europeans to show solidarity, and we will repeat our support for Greece and Cyprus, but we must also find ways to engage again in a difficult dialogue with Turkey,” the French president added.

For its part, Greece and Cyprus are pressuring to impose European sanctions on Turkey, as Cyprus obstructs efforts by its European Union partners to impose sanctions on the ruling authorities in Belarus, and Nicosia has called on Brussels first to take a position on Turkey’s oil and gas exploration in its waters.

Cyprus won Austria’s support in the issue of punishing Turkey, as Vienna criticized the leaders of the rest of the union’s member states for not supporting Nicosia, and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said, “The union should show President Erdogan in the end our red lines. This means ending accession talks and imposing sanctions.”

Not a unified position
The draft statement of the extraordinary European summit did not include an agreed position on Turkey, as Germany does not want to disrupt the separate talks between Ankara and Athens on many issues, including immigration, by imposing European sanctions on it, and calls for giving priority to diplomatic means to resolve the dispute with Turkey.

And earlier yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – in a speech in her country’s parliament – stressed the importance of the European Union’s cooperation with Turkey. She explained that the Union has multi-dimensional relations with Turkey, and “we must balance our relations again with it.” Merkel praised Turkey’s hospitality for refugees, noting that she is also a member of NATO. A high-ranking German official ruled out that the European summit today includes plans to impose sanctions on Ankara.

Before the start of the summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a message to European leaders – except for Greece and Cyprus – in which he confirmed that Turkey’s relations with the European Union are facing a new test.

Erdogan pointed out that “Greece and Cyprus are the cause of the problems, not Turkey,” reiterating his country’s readiness for unconditional dialogue with Greece on the maritime border disputes in the eastern Mediterranean, and noting support for NATO’s initiatives in this context.

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