EU aims for constructive dialogue with Turkey as leaders meet on East Med, Belarus sanctions

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The European Union’s 27 leaders are set to meet in Brussels Thursday to find ways out of escalating tensions between Turkey and bloc members Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration over gas exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

The leaders will also try to break a stalemate over Belarus by untangling the standoff with Turkey that has exposed the paralysis in the bloc’s decision-making.

“Our objective is to create a space for a constructive dialogue with Turkey to achieve stability and security in the whole region, and to ensure full respect for the sovereignty and sovereign rights of all EU member states,” European Council President Charles Michel told leaders in an open letter ahead of the meeting.

The summit was initially scheduled for last week, but it had to be postponed when Michel entered quarantine because of contact with a person infected with COVID-19. He has since tested negative for the virus.

While a host of issues are on the agenda, the heart of the discussions will center on Turkey.

“This will only be possible if Turkey engages constructively. All options remain on the table to defend the legitimate interests of the EU and its member states,” he said.

Meeting in Brussels for a two-day summit, leaders are set to confront the Greek Cypriot administration, which is accused of holding up approval of economic sanctions on Belarus following an election in August that the West and the opposition say was rigged.

The Greek Cypriot administration says the EU must first agree to impose sanctions on Turkey to send a message that Ankara’s oil and gas exploration along the coast of the Mediterranean island is unacceptable.

The EU is being pulled in different directions by France’s tough stance on Turkey and Germany’s push for dialogue.

Athens and Ankara have said they are prepared to resume talks on continental shelf disputes interrupted in 2016. The talks are to be held in Istanbul but a date has not been announced.

Sixty prior attempts have been held since 2002 without success.

In the Eastern Mediterranean, tensions have been running high for weeks as Greece has disputed Turkey’s energy exploration.

Turkey – the country with the longest coastline on the Mediterranean – sent out drillships to explore for energy on its continental shelf, asserting its rights in the region, as well as those of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently unveiled Greece’s most ambitious arms spending program in two decades, including 15,000 additional troops, frigates, missiles and French-made warplanes.

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