EU chiefs push Turkey for 'sustained de-escalation'

·2-min read
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for "concrete results" from the upcoming EU leaders summit

EU chiefs on Friday pressed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a "sustained de-escalation", as the neighbours seek to mend ties after a spike in tensions over the eastern Mediterranean.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council head Charles Michel held a video conference with the Turkish leader to try to build on recent conciliatory moves from Ankara.

The bloc has been encouraged by Turkey resuming talks with Greece over their disputed maritime border and by plans to restart UN peace efforts for divided EU member state Cyprus.

"The EU side underlined the importance of sustained de-escalation and further strengthening confidence building to allow for a more positive EU-Turkey agenda," an EU statement said.

"The presidents also exchanged views on the situation of Syrian refugees hosted in Turkey, as well as the wider regional situation including Libya and Syria."

The statement said the EU chiefs discussed a "possible visit" to Turkey after next week's European summit. where leaders of the member states are to discuss the state of relations with Ankara, among other issues.

Relations plummeted last year after Turkey repeatedly sent a ship to search for gas deposits in disputed waters, angering the bloc and member states Greece and Cyprus.

But warming ties have seen moves to impose sanctions agreed on in December put on the back burner over fears of derailing the rapprochement.

- Provocations -

According to the Turkish presidency, Erdogan called for "concrete results" from the upcoming EU leaders summit and insisted "high-level dialogue must begin".

He told the EU chiefs that Ankara was in favour of cooperation and stability in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean despite "provocations from Greece and Greek Cyprus".

The Turkish leader insisted updating a deal struck five years ago to reduce the number of migrants crossing into the bloc "was the basis for a positive agenda".

That accord has seen Ankara stem the flow of migrants mainly from the war in Syria in return for billions of euros in aid from Brussels -- but it has not stopped sniping from both sides and Turkey wants it reviewed.

The EU is closely following UN efforts to restart peace talks over Cyprus in which Turkey is a key player.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will convene an informal meeting in April involving main international actors Greece, Turkey and Britain to explore how to break the deadlock.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to a coup orchestrated by the military junta then in power in Athens aimed at annexing the island to Greece.

Erdogan said "realistic and new options must be discussed".

To its south, the EU is hoping that an agreement to form a unity government in Libya can drag the north African country out of years of turmoil and will look to press key player Ankara to cooperate.

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