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EU leaders to discuss arms exports to Turkey with NATO and US, says Merkel

Published: Updated:

EU leaders plan to discuss arm exports to Turkey with NATO allies and Washington, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, after Greece pushed for an arms embargo on Ankara.

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Merkel spoke after a summit where the bloc’s 27 leaders agreed to prepare limited sanctions on Turkish individuals over an energy exploration dispute with Greece and Cyprus but postponed any harsher steps until March.

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“We also spoke about how questions about arms exports must be discussed within NATO. We said that we want to coordinate with the new US administration about Turkey,” Merkel told a news conference.

The European Union and NATO are planning to hold a summit with US President-elect Joe Biden after he takes office in January. Many EU states are also members of the NATO alliance.

Merkel’s comments underlined a hardening stance on Turkey among EU governments, many of whom have in the past resisted punitive measures on Ankara, a NATO ally, candidate for EU membership and host to Syrians fleeing civil war who would otherwise seek refuge in Europe.

But member states have also grown increasingly critical of Turkey’s involvement in Libya and its purchase of a Russian weapons system, among other flashpoints. The United States is already poised to impose sanctions on Turkey over those purchases, Reuters reported this month.

Tensions have also flared over Turkey’s decision to send oil-and-gas drilling ships to waters off southern Cyprus where Greek Cypriot authorities have already awarded hydrocarbon exploration rights to Italian and French companies.

Turkey says it is operating in waters on its own continental shelf or areas where Turkish Cypriots have rights. Its president Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he was not concerned by any sanctions the bloc might impose.

The EU exported only 45 million euros ($54.53 million) worth of arms and ammunition to Turkey in 2018, including missiles, according to EU statistics office Eurostat, but sales of aircraft amounted to several billion euros.

The United States, Italy and Spain were the top exporters of arms to Turkey from 2015-2019, according the Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a leading conflict and armaments think tank.

EU governments agreed in October 2019 to limit arms sales to Turkey but stopped short of a bloc-wide ban. The bloc currently bans arms sales to several states including Russia, Belarus, Syria and Venezuela.

EU governments including Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden said last year they were halting or restricting arms export license approvals for Turkey.