EU official urges Turkey to resolve issues with Greece,


European Council President Charles Michel called on Turkey to continue working to resolve disputes with Greece and Cyprus over Mediterranean gas rights during his visit to Ankara on Tuesday to discuss trade and refugees with the president Tayyip Erdogan.

A row between Turkey and EU members Greece and Cyprus over offshore jurisdiction has strained relations, peaking last summer when Turkish and Greek navy frigates escorted ships to the search for hydrocarbons in disputed waters.

The European Union is backing Athens, while Ankara has accused the bloc of bias and of failing to deliver on promises in a 2016 migrants deal.

The visit of Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen follows an EU summit last month in which the bloc said work could begin on deeper trade ties and on providing more money to refugees in Turkey.

Despite concerns over what some EU leaders are calling Turkey’s recent human rights setback, the EU has applauded Ankara’s recent withdrawal from ships operating in disputed waters and the resumption of talks with Greece.

“In Ankara, ready with (von der Leyen) to start a discussion with (Erdogan) on the future of EU-Turkey relations,” Michel said on Twitter. “Sustained de-escalation is needed to build a more constructive program.”

Last month, the EU opened the door to start updating a customs union as demanded by Ankara. This would bring EU candidate Turkey into the internal market of the world’s largest trading bloc and allow an unhindered flow of goods and services.

Erdogan has played down EU membership in recent years and few analysts see it as imminent.

EU leaders, who last had face-to-face talks with Erdogan a year ago, were to present Ankara with three options if maritime de-escalation continues, including improving economic ties, a formula to support the more than 4 million refugees in Turkey. and ways to increase contacts.

“We are no longer in an emergency situation, so it is more about working with a longer term perspective,” said an EU official.

At last month’s summit, the EU also warned Ankara of sanctions if it revived energy exploration in the contested waters and expressed concern about Turkey’s human rights record.

Michel and Von der Leyen are expected to stress in Ankara that the EU will not approve closer ties without respect for fundamental rights.

The EU and the US have criticized Turkey’s decision to abruptly withdraw from a convention protecting women from violence, as well as legal action to shut down the third largest party, the Democratic Party of the pro-Kurdish people (HDP).

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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