EU to debate relations with Turkey, but sanctions off the table

EU to debate relations with Turkey, but sanctions off the table

Greece will ask the European Union to prepare a list of "very powerful measures" against Turkey, in case it infringes on Greek sovereign rights with its drilling for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told TV station Skai Sunday.

However, the EU has no intention to discuss any sanctions against Turkey, either for its eastern Mediterranean drilling or any violation of the arms embargo in Libya, according to a high-ranking EU official.

According to the official, "there is no intention to put on the table" the prospect of sanctions against Turkey for its exploratory drilling activities at Monday's first face-to-face meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

While the official acknowledged that preventing any illegal activities by Turkey, such as drilling inside Cyprus' exclusive economic zone or its Navy's undermining the peace operation in Libya is "crucial" for the improvement of relations with the EU, sanctions over Libya are not within the scope of the UN Security Council decisions, which would have to be amended.

Still, the official said, Monday's Foreign Affairs Council will include an "in-depth discussion" of all aspects of EU-Turkey relations. But, if anything, the EU is expected to make symbolic "good will" gestures toward Turkey, with EU High Representative Josep Borrell mentioning the failed 2016 coup in Turkey and emphasizing the EU's support for Turkey's elected government. Turkey's perception of lukewarm EU condemnation of the coup has contributed to a cooling of relations.

The purpose of all that is "to unblock a very difficult relationship" that has been downgraded in the past few years, the EU official said.

The Council will also discuss the reconversion of Hagia Sophia, the iconic former Byzantine cathedral, into a mosque, Dendias told Skai TV.

After being used as a mosque for over 400 years forllowing the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum by modern Turkjey's founder, Kemal Ataturk, in 1934.

"Erdogan is crossing a line. He even repudiates his own country's tradition. He is turnbing his back to the international community and its rules," Dendias said. "We should not ignore the fact that he shows no spirit of cooperation within international law," he added.

Despite that, Dendias said, Turkey should be given the space to reverse its decision on Hagia Sophia without seeming to bow to international pressure.

The foreign minister added that the issue is not one between Greece and Turkey but one involving the global community. "It is Unesco that has the responsibility to protect the monument," he said.

Yannis Palaiologos contributed to this report from Brussels.

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