Spotlight: East Med crisis delivers new blow to EU-Turkey relations: experts

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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, Sept. 11 (Xinhua) -- The escalating row between Turkey and Greece over natural gas exploration in disputed waters of Eastern Mediterranean risks further deterioration of relations between Turkey and the European Union, experts and diplomats said.

Greece and Turkey, both NATO members, have overlapping maritime claims in the region. The dispute boiled into a crisis last month after both countries sent naval vessels to the area to flex their military muscles.

Turkey's row with Greece, an EU member, has fueled concerns about a potential military conflict between the two neighbors.

EU's rotating chair Germany launched a mediation but the efforts remained ineffective until NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stepped in and a first "military de-confliction" meeting was held on Thursday in Brussels between Turkish and Greek representatives.

Turkey has been knocking on the European bloc's door for over 40 years and is currently a candidate country. However, accession talks are frozen because of some member countries' disagreement to the Turkish membership, claiming Ankara has failed to adopt key EU criteria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Europeans to be "impartial" in the latest crisis which also tests EU's foreign policy.

He reiterated that "Turkey won't back down to protect its rights in the Eastern Mediterranean."

Nursin Atesoglu Guney, a professor of international relations from Istanbul's Technical University, said that the EU is divided on the attitude toward this mounting dispute.

"Some nations such as France support Greece but a majority of them don't want further escalation which would be detrimental to the bloc, and also do not want to alienate an important country such as Turkey," she told private TV24 on Thursday.

EU foreign ministers are set to discuss the bloc's bilateral relations with Turkey during an informal meeting under the helm of the German EU presidency in Berlin on Sept. 27-28.

"Turkey is a strategically important nation to the EU, but on the other hand, there is a member state who strongly contests Ankara's policy in the Mediterranean," an EU diplomat told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

"We are in favor of a meaningful dialogue between Greece and Turkey in order to settle their disputes," the source noted.

Faruk Kaymakci, Turkey's deputy foreign minister, said last week that his country is being "estranged" from the EU.

"There are some accusations coming from the EU, such as 'Turkey is drifting apart from the EU and from the EU's values.' I think the main problem is that Turkey is being estranged from the EU," he said during a meeting in Ankara.

For Serkan Demirtas, foreign policy analyst of daily Hurriyet, the EU should adopt a "more realistic approach" to ensure the launch of direct talks between Turkey and Greece as well as Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Enditem

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