Turkish survey vessel back in port as ‘watershed’ EU summit looms

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The Turkish seismic survey ship Oruç Reis, searching for potential hydrocarbon reserves in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean, returned to port on Monday, prompting a warm but reserved response from Germany before an EU summit on December 10-11 to discuss possible sanctions against Ankara.

After a controversial visit by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to northern Cyprus and Turkish operations in the eastern Mediterranean that stoked tensions between Turkey and EU member countries, the European Parliament called for sanctions against Ankara last week, labeling the search illegal, a charge rejected by Turkey.

France is pushing the EU to sanction Turkey, a move that has been resisted by Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel touting the withdrawal of the drillship as a “good sign.” Yet Merkel noted that Turkey was still carrying out drilling activities off Cyprus.

While the seismic survey vessel Oruç Reis and drillship Yavuz were out of disputed waters, the Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, another seismic research ship, is still out to sea south of Cyprus.

BBC’s Turkish edition said Merkel’s stance on avoiding sanctions against Ankara has weakened over the last two months, as Turkey also withdrew the Oruç Reis from contested waters ahead of an EU summit in October, but later sent it back after it pronounced the summit’s outcome “unsatisfactory.”

As a result NATO-brokered talks between Turkey and Greece collapsed, with Athens pushing for sanctions against Ankara for its “aggressive” behavior in the sea.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he was still concerned with the circumstances and was working to reduce tensions by keeping lines of communication open, canceling military drills and other measures.

“When the ship Oruc Reis is in port, as it is from today as far as I have been informed, that helps to reduce tensions and makes it easier to make progress also on deconfliction,” Stoltenberg told a news conference.

According to BBC’s Turkish edition, Turkey will try to approach NATO allies at a December 1-2 meeting of NATO foreign ministers to exert pressure on EU countries in a bid to stop likely sanctions.

Spain and Italy are not in favor of sanctions; however, they would not disrupt unity in the bloc if Germany and France agree to enforce them, observers say.

Reports by international media outlets citing diplomats say any measures would likely target areas of Turkey’s economy linked to hydrocarbon exploration.

Erdoğan and his cabinet have been sending lukewarm messages of commitment to EU membership over the last month, a move that is unlikely to find any buyers in the bloc, according to observers.

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