NEWS

Tsipras urges Ankara to dialogue, as EU expresses support for Cyprus

ELENI VARVITSIOTIS

TAGS: Cyprus, Turkey, Diplomacy, EU

Top European officials on Thursday expressed their support for Cyprus in a dispute with Turkey, which has threatened to start drilling in the island’s exclusive economic zone, as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appealed to Ankara for dialogue on the issue for the first time.

Speaking at an EU leaders’ summit in the Romanian city of Sibiu, European Council President Donald Tusk said the European Union “stands united” behind Cyprus, adding that the bloc “expects Turkey to respect the sovereign rights” of its member nation.

Asked by a reporter about his stance on the same issue, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker remarked, “today I am a Cypriot.”

Briefing EU leaders, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades spoke of an “unprecedented escalation of illegal action” in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying that Turkey’s bid to drill in Cyprus’ EEZ was tantamount to a new invasion of the island. He and Tsipras, who met separately on the sidelines of the summit, called for measures to be taken against Ankara if it presses forward with its plans.

Tsipras stressed that the matter was “not an internal issue of Cyprus” or a bilateral issue between Cyprus and Turkey, “but a European one.” He said he asked for the next summit after European elections, on May 23-26, to tackle the issue and take measures if Turkey’s “unilateral provocative behavior” continues. “Turkey must sit at the table for dialogue, not continue with unilateral actions that violate international law,” Tsipras said.

Although Anastasiades did not officially ask the EU to impose sanctions on Turkey at on Thursday’s summit, which focused on issues including global warming, democracy and employment, sources indicated that several leaders, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Swedish PM Stefan Lofven favor such a scenario.

The developments come amid inflammatory rhetoric by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who on Thursday, in a speech to Turkish cadets, referred to “increasing attempts to violate our rights in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean.” “You will give a response of steel to any threat to an inch of our borders but also beyond our borders,” he said.

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