ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey would be even more determined to protect its territorial rights in the Eastern Mediterranean if the European Union ultimately decides to impose sanctions on it over offshore oil and gas exploration, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said.
The senior official, who requested anonymity, said sanctions would not deter Turkey and suggested they could imperil dialogue planned between Ankara and Athens over disputed maritime boundaries and oil and gas rights.
The warning came as EU leaders broke a diplomatic deadlock early on Friday and assured bloc member Cyprus it would punish Turkey if it continued operations in disputed waters. Sanctions could come as soon as December if “provocations” have not stopped, it said.
Before the post-midnight deal, Cyprus had demanded sanctions on Turkey over what it calls Ankara’s “gunboat diplomacy” and violations of the island nation’s maritime shelf.
Tensions have simmered since Turkish and Greek frigates collided at sea in August near one of Turkey’s exploration vessels, though things have cooled a bit since Turkey and Greece, both members of NATO, said they would resume “exploratory talks” that ended in 2016.
The talks are an effort “to bring Greece into dialogue and finally Greece agreed to that, and we hope to resume those soon”, likely this month, the Turkish official said.
But “if the EU applies sanctions this will not deter us. On the contrary this would increase our resolve and would be a negative stance on the part of the European Union”, he said.
“We will continue our offshore programme as we have been doing. Sanctions are not the right way (and) will not deter us to protect our rights to our continental shelf and also the rights of the Turkish Cypriots,” the official added.
Speaking to parliament on Thursday, President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey preferred to resolve disagreements in the Eastern Mediterranean through dialogue and was not seeking tensions and clashes in the region.
(Map of Mediterranean claims: tmsnrt.rs/32EYN8W)
Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Additional reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Frances Kerry
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