EU foreign ministers to discuss Turkey, Belarus, Lebanon in emergency meeting

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has called an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council meeting Friday afternoon. “We will discuss urgent issues and address the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Belarus Presidential elections, as well as developments in Lebanon,” he said in a tweet Wednesday.

The ministers to discuss targeted sanctions against Belarus following Sunday’s contested election and subsequent violent crackdown down on protesters. Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, claimed victory with around 80% of the vote, triggering three nights of violent clashes between security forces and opposition supporters in which one protester was killed.

“I absolutely think we need to consider broadening targeted sanctions against those responsible for the violence against the protesters (and) for the election fraud - those involved in the electoral process not having turned out free and fair,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told Swedish radio on Wednesday. “This morning there has been a summons to an extraordinary EU foreign ministers’ meeting on Friday where we will discuss precisely this (sanctions),” she told the public broadcaster.

Lithuania had also said it would consider such steps. Any decision on sanctions requires agreement by all 27 EU member states, meaning no imminent move is expected. As seen in the cases of Russia or Ukraine, such decisions can take weeks or months. Foreign ministers are due to next meet at the end of August in Berlin.

Borrell on Tuesday condemned what he called “disproportionate” violence by Belarus authorities against protesters and said the EU could take unspecified measures.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said in a letter to Borrell, which was seen by Reuters, that the Friday meeting should “show support for the peaceful protesters and exchange ideas on how the EU could help them”.

Greece’s foreign minister travelled to Vienna Friday for urgent talks with his EU counterparts and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on military tensions with Turkey, as the Greek and Turkish navies continued a game of brinkmanship over eastern Mediterranean drilling rights. Nikos Dendias was due to meet Pompeo and Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, with whom he will also participate in the emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers.

Athens is seeking backing and potential EU sanctions from its partners in the dispute with neighbouring Turkey, which comes weeks after a similar confrontation was defused with the intercession of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. So far, only France has responded, pledging to boost its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean and sending two warships to the area Thursday for joint drills with the Greek navy. France also deployed two fighter planes to the southern Greek island of Crete. French relations with Turkey are already bad over Ankara’s involvement in Libya’s civil war.

Relations between historic regional rivals - and nominal NATO allies - Greece and Turkey have hit a more than two-decade low after Turkey sent a seismic research ship, escorted by warships, to prospect Monday for potential offshore oil and gas in waters Athens claims as its own. Greece placed its armed forces on high alert and sent warships to the spot, south of Turkey between Crete and the island nation of Cyprus, demanding the vessels’ withdrawal. Turkey claims it has every right to prospect in the area, as well as in neighbouring waters Cyprus considers its own, after the discovery of large offshore gas deposits in recent years off Israel, Egypt and Cyprus.

The governments in Athens and Ankara have spoken of the need for peaceful dialogue, though it’s unclear how that could happen with each insisting that they will defend their rights. Meanwhile, with the warships dancing about each other in a relatively small patch of the eastern Mediterranean, there’s a real danger of rapid escalation in the case of an accidental collision or hostile act.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he sent a letter to the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell ahead of a special meeting called at Greece's request, wanting to explain Turkey's position on developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, according to the country's state-run news agency Anadolu. Cavusoglu argued that Greece and Cyprus’ “unilateral measures, alliances and initiatives” have excluded Turkey, despite its call for dialogue and cooperation. He said Greece and Egypt’s maritime border deal is “in total violation” of Turkey and Libya’s continental shelf.

Cavusoglu also urged EU member states to oppose any “unfair” measures that may be taken against Turkey. Similar letters were also sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cryptically implied that his country had responded to an incident involving the Turkish research ship Oruc Reis.

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