NICOSIA, Cyprus -- The European Union shouldn’t discard imposing tougher sanctions to get Turkey to give up an “unlawful” hydrocarbons search in the eastern Mediterranean that has ratcheted up tensions, the president of Cyprus said Wednesday.
President Nicos Anastasiades said the EU should weigh using “all means at our disposal” while responding to Turkey to avoid setting “a double standard” in how the 27-member bloc chooses to deal with improper activity inside and outside its borders.
“As long as unlawful actions are being taken against European Union member states, the European Union’s reaction must be immediate," Anastasiades said after talks with European Council President Charles Michel in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.
A Greek-Turkish naval standoff began last month when Turkish research and drill ships began searching for energy reserves in waters where Greece and ethnically divided Cyprus claim exclusive rights.
The crisis prompted Greece to announce a major new arms shopping spree, including French fighter jets and new frigates. Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said Wednesday that the armaments program is expected to cost about 10 billion euros ($11.8 billion).
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also said Wednesday that Athens is prepared to enter talks with Ankara over marine zone limits and, if these prove futile, to seek arbitration from an international court. But he said Turkey must take action to reduce regional tension before the negotiations can start.
Turkey, which doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state, says it has every right to prospect for oil and gas in those waters and won't accept being "hemmed in" by Greek and Cypriot claims.
The EU's Michel made no reference to sanctions, but said it's essential for the EU to forge a common position in talks aimed at defusing a potential armed conflict in the Mediterranean Sea.
He said the EU's previous calls for solidarity with Cyprus should be backed up “with words and actions."
“I think we must indeed be very firm when it comes to defending the interests of all member states, including the interests of Cyprus," Michel said.
Michel's visit to Cyprus after a stop in Greece came as EU leaders prepare to discuss a course of action for deescalating the tensions with Turkey.
On Tuesday, Turkey extended its search for oil and gas inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone through mid-October. Turkish drilling ship Yavuz is operating southwest of Cyprus.
“Respect for the sovereignty of all EU member states should remain the rule that no one can ignore or disregard," Anastasiades said.
Speaking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a video conference Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said European countries must be “fair and consistent” on eastern Mediterranean issues and that all disagreements could be solved through negotiations.
According to a Turkish presidency statement, Erdogan also said Turkey would continue defending its rights with “decisive and active policy."