Top EU officials urge Ankara to free soldiers, stop violations

Top EU officials urge Ankara to free soldiers, stop violations

Senior European Union officials on Monday called on Turkey to improve its relationship with Greece and Cyprus and for the swift release of two Greek soldiers who have been in Turkish custody since early March, indicating that progress in EU-Turkish talks on other issues hinged on these issues. 

European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU’s leadership expressed concerns about Turkish actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean, and over the detention of the Greek soldiers who, he said, are EU citizens. 

Tusk made his remarks during a joint conference in Varna, Bulgaria, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who said it is “indispensable” for Turkey to improve its relationship with Greece and Cyprus. 

During a conversation with Juncker and Tusk earlier, Erdogan is said to have suggested that a solution could be found to the situation with the soldiers without, however, commiting to it. 

Juncker urged for a quick resolution, describing Turkey as a “strategic partner.” 

“Hope that Turkish justice will release the two Greek soldiers for Easter,” Juncker was cited by EC spokesman Margaritis Schinas as saying on Twitter. 

Erdogan, for his part, described as a “big mistake” the exclusion of Turkey from a broadening EU. He avoided commenting on issues relating to Greece, noting on Cyprus that Turkish Cypriots should have equal rights when it comes to the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Earlier Erdogan said that EU membership remained a “strategic goal” for Turkey while calling on the bloc’s officials to remove “political and artificial” hurdles to Turkey’s membership. 

Since last week’s EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, Greece has been pushing for member-states to take a tougher stance opposite Ankara as regards both the increase in violations in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean and the two Greek soldiers. 

Earlier on Monday Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos repeated Greece’s stance in comments to Sto Kokkino FM. “What is important for us,” he said, “is for all policies and diplomatic pressure to be used on Turkey so that its behavior no longer provokes problems in the broader region.”

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