Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that accession talks with the European Union (EU) could be stopped because of the EU’s latest decision to impose sanctions over Turkish gas drilling activities off Cyprus.
Speaking to reporters in Ankara before leaving on an official visit to the United States (US), Erdogan also reiterated his threat to send captive Islamic State (ISIS) fighters back to their home countries, most of which are European states.
“Hey EU, know this: Turkey is not one of those countries you have come to know until now. We are a country that sits at the negotiating table with you. These negotiations may suddenly end,” Erdogan said.
On Monday, the European Council, which is made up of the leaders of 28 EU countries, condemned Turkey’s “illegal” drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean and agreed on economic sanctions which involve travel bans and asset freezes on Turkish officials making decision on the drilling activities, and persons or entities providing financial, technical or material support for the drilling activities.
According to the Reuters news agency, the measures agreed sets up the legal framework for travel bans and asset freezes, but at this stage, no entity or person has been named.
Turkey argues that it acts in line with its rights based on international law as it is operating in waters on its own continental shelf or areas where Turkish Cypriots have rights.
On the other side, the Greek Cypriot regime, with the Western world’s backing, considers the drilling waters to be its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The EU foreign ministers’ decision followed another EU decision taken last month to stop arms sales to Turkey over its latest incursion into northern Syria against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Among other concerns, the US and the EU worry also about the resurgence of the ISIS following Turkey’s operation and current presence in the region, as there are around 11,000 ISIS fighters in Syria’s prisons under the SDF control.
“You may take this lightly, but these doors [to Europe] will open and these Daesh [ISIS] members will be sent to you. Do not try to threaten Turkey over developments in Cyprus. Whether you accept them or not, we will continue to send them back,” Erdogan said the day before.
Turkey started repatriating detained foreigner ISIS fighters on Monday, a move that will mostly affect the EU countries as most of the militants are believed to be European nationals.
Cyprus is a divided island between the EU member Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) since a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup in 1974.
Being the only country that officially recognizes the KKTC as an independent country, Turkey does not officially acknowledge the Republic of Cyprus.
The division of Cyprus also marks one of the most difficult issues in Turkey’s EU accession. Currently, most EU members say Turkey does not meet the democratic criteria to be a candidate, let alone an EU member, with its deteriorating record on human rights following a failed coup attempt in 2016.