The possibility of European Union mediation between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus was discussed in Ankara on Monday by the EU High Representative Josep Borrell and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“I am here [in Turkey] to find a solution to the conflict between Turkey and Greece over the Eastern Mediterranean. We [as the EU] plan to organize negotiation talks between the two sides,” Borrell was quoted as saying by the English version of the Sabah newspaper. Borrell made his comments ahead of this coming Monday’s summit of the EU’s 27 foreign ministers which will discuss Turkey.
The EU official admitted that EU-Turkey relations were not at their best, adding that the bloc will continue to work to find a solution for the better distribution of hydrocarbon revenues in Cyprus. He also stressed that the EU and Turkey should reconsider issues such as customs union, refugees and cooperation in Syria and Libya.
For his part, Cavusoglu took what was seen as a harsh tone warning that Turkey would respond to any sanctions imposed on it by the EU, directly threatening to weaponize the refugee issue. More specifically, he said that if the EU allows two member-states to make a hostage of the political issues pertaining to Turkey then Ankara will not fulfill its responsibilities on the refugees issue. As for the proposal for European intervention on the Cyprus hydrocarbons issue, Cavusoglu stressed that Turkey would accept it only if it was an honest mediation.
Meanwhile on Monday, the European Commission took an indirect, but clear, position in favor of maintaining the status of the former church of Hagia Sophia as a museum.
“We understand that Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage site; this is important and we need to look at it from that perspective,” said the EC’s chief spokesman Eric Mamer. He also stressed that “Hagia Sophia is a symbol of tolerance, dialogue and we must not use these facts to fuel any disagreement between religions.”
Weighing in on the issue, Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that although Hagia Sophia was a domestic Turkish issue, it has “sacred value” for Russia and that it should be taken into account that it is a World Heritage site.
Russian Patriarch Kirill said any change to the status of “one of the biggest monuments of Christian civilization” and any attempt “to humiliate or trample on the 1,000-year-old spiritual heritage of the Church of Constantinople will be taken by the Russian people – in the past as now – with bitterness and exasperation.”