Turkish foreign minister asks the bloc to be impartial towards Ankara in eastern Mediterranean tensions with Greece.
Turkey’s foreign minister has said that his country expects the European Union to act as an “honest broker” in the eastern Mediterranean region.
“If you are part of the problem, how can you mediate between Turkey and Greece, or between Turkish and Greek Cypriots?” said Mevlut Cavusoglu while addressing the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Relations via video link from Senegal.
Cavusoglu said the EU has assumed the role of a judicial authority defending the claims of one side in the eastern Mediterranean and its position was unjust and not in line with international law.
He noted that the European organisation and Ankara were not on the best of terms, but this should not stand in the way of establishing a sincere dialogue channel.
#Canlı 📡— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) September 10, 2020
Sayın Bakanımızın #AvrupaParlamentosu Dış İlişkiler Komitesi’ne Hitabı 🇹🇷🇪🇺
Address of Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to the #EuropeanParliament Foreign Relations Committee 🇹🇷🇪🇺
Critical of the Greek Cypriots’ ascension to the EU in 2014, he further noted that Greece and Greek Cypriot Administration (GCA) had poisoned Turkey’s strategic relations with the EU by absorbing the latter into its maximalist agendas.
Alliances against Turkey
In addition to Greece and GCA, according to Cavusoglu, other countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, France and even an outside actor - the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - have recently sought to forge alliances isolating Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in the region.
He underlined that Ankara supported the mediation efforts by Germany and the EU, whereas Athens did not favour dialogue and had adopted a negative approach towards the deescalation bid of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Turkey, without any preconditions, is ready to engage in dialogue but will set its own terms if Greece comes up with demands, said the country’s top diplomat, adding the EU had maintained a neutral stance regarding maritime jurisdiction disputes experienced by Spain, Ukraine, Slovenia and Croatia.
Cavusoglu concluded that Turkey did not seek any escalation in the eastern Mediterranean and favoured a peaceful approach and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself had instructed the military vessels protecting the Oruc Reis – a Turkish-flagged energy research vessel operating in the region – not to be the first side to open fire, adding they would stand firm to protect the ship should Greek ships attempt to harass the research vessel.
Turkey's Mediterranean mission
Greece has contested Turkey’s current energy exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean, trying to box in Turkish maritime territory based on small islands near the Turkish coast.
Turkey, the country with the longest coastline in the Mediterranean, has sent out drill ships to explore for energy on its continental shelf, saying that Turkey and the TRNC have rights in the region.
Dialogue for fairly sharing these resources will be a win-win for all sides, say Turkish officials.
Deteriorating Turkish-French ties
The Turkish foreign minister also shed light on how Turkey and France were not on the same page on Syria, Libya and the eastern Mediterranean.
He said Turkey considered France its ally, but the French policy toward Turkey had changed following Ankara’s operation against YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror group.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign, the PKK, listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US, and EU, has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people.
“France is supporting the PKK to divide Syria. This plan was ruined, that’s why France became very angry with us,” said Cavusoglu, adding there were times when both countries had the same policy on Syria.
“I attended many meetings of the International Syrian Support Group. [...] We even criticised the US for being too flexible. We were against Russian policy there,” he said.
He condemned French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement earlier in the day calling on the EU to be tough with Turkey.
He also demanded an apology from France for issuing a complaint in NATO on trumped up charges of harassment.
Migration and EU security
Another issue Cavusoglu touched upon was the EU criticism of Turkish military operations in northwestern Syria, which played a critical role in eliminating forced migration to Europe.
“I have to be very honest with you. We stopped the influx of 3 million refugees to Turkey and maybe toward the EU. How can you criticise us for being in Idlib?” he said.
Stating that Turkey was building houses for the war-weary people in northern Syria, he said Germany and France did not keep their promise of lending help to Ankara.
“We are suffering a lot. It has been a big burden for us but still you criticise Turkey,” he said.
Syria has been ravaged by a civil war since early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on protesters.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to UN estimates.
Turkey followed an open-door policy for Syrians fleeing the bloodshed at their homeland in an effort to protect millions of displaced people. Turkey currently stands as the world’s top refugee-hosting country with its Syrian population amounting to 3.6 million.
Southern EU leaders meet in Corsica
Meanwhile, leaders of seven southern European countries on Thursday urged Turkey to end “unilateral and illegal activities” in the eastern Mediterranean and resume dialogue to ease tensions in the region.
Heads of states and government of France, Greece, Greek Cypriot Administration, Malta, Italy, Spain and Portugal gathered in Corsica.
In their final statement, leaders reaffirmed their “full support and solidarity" with GCA and Greece who they say are facing Turkey's “confrontational actions.”
Leaders warned that “in absence of progress in engaging Turkey into a dialogue and unless it ends its unilateral activities, the EU is ready to develop a list of further restrictive measures" at a summit later this month.
They also called on resuming German mediation in the dispute. Russia also offered this week to mediate.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said “if Turkey really wants a frank dialogue with Greece and (Southern) Cyprus with the European Union, it must demonstrate this in practice: to immediately stop unilateral actions, to make convincing indications that it respect international law."
Turkey needs to “restrain its aggressive rhetoric” and "return to the table for exploratory talks with Greece,” he added.
Earlier Thursday, Macron denounced what he called “unacceptable” provocations from Turkey.
“Turkey is no longer a partner in this region,” Macron told reporters ahead of the summit. “We Europeans need to be clear and firm” with the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about its “inadmissible behaviour,” he said.
'Old colonial reflexes'
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry characterised Macron’s statement as “arrogant” and in line with “old colonial reflexes.” It accused the French president of stoking tensions and putting the “greater interests” of Europe at risk.
“It is not for Macron to determine the maritime jurisdiction of any country in the Mediterranean" or anywhere else, the Turkish ministry said in a statement.
Separately from the diplomatic discussions, Turkish and Greek military officials met on Thursday at NATO headquarters, as part of ongoing meetings aimed at reducing the risk of armed conflict.
Greece and Turkey both are NATO members.
The leaders also planned to discuss EU and NATO operations in the Mediterranean and their relation to Turkey during a dinner on Thursday evening.
The seven countries are aiming at coming up with a united southern European front before a full EU summit later this month focused on the bloc’s strategy toward Turkey.
European Council President Charles Michel will travel to Greece, Cyprus and Malta next week for talks with leaders.