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Turkey calls on EU to act with common sense, says wants to improve ties

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ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey urged the European Union on Tuesday to use “common sense” to end a row over natural gas exploration that has fanned territorial disputes in the eastern Mediterranean and drawn a threat of sanctions from EU leaders.

Speaking at a news conference with his Hungarian counterpart in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated that Ankara wanted to join the EU as a full member, and said EU statements accusing Ankara of stoking tensions were wrong.

EU member state Greece had continued “provocative” steps despite Turkey’s diplomatic efforts, he said.

On Monday, EU foreign ministers said Turkey had failed to help end the row with member states Greece and Cyprus over potential gas resources but they left any decision on retaliatory sanctions for an EU summit on Thursday.

“They need to be fair and honest here. If they also think strategically and with common sense, not just at the summit but always, and we achieve a positive atmosphere, we can improve our ties,” Cavusoglu said. “We can only solve our problems with dialogue and diplomacy.

“We want to improve our ties with the EU. We are not saying this because there is a summit or because there are sanctions and other things on the agenda,” he added. “We always wanted to improve our ties on the basis of full membership.”

NATO member and EU candidate Turkey has been at odds with Greece and Cyprus over the extent of their continental shelves in the east Mediterranean. Tensions flared in August when Turkey sent its Oruc Reis survey vessel to waters claimed by Greece.

After withdrawing the Oruc Reis for what it said was maintenance ahead of a previous EU summit in October, Ankara sent it back shortly after, citing unsatisfactory results from the summit. It withdrew the vessel again last week.

European Council President Charles Michel warned Turkey not to play “cat and mouse” by withdrawing ships before EU summits, only to redeploy them afterwards. 

France is leading the push in the bloc to sanction Turkey, but President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday Turkey would not “bow down to threats and blackmail”, while repeating a call for dialogue.

A spokesman for Erdogan’s AK Party said that using the “language of sanctions” against Turkey will amount to “racists and fascists” winning in Europe.

“Using (such) language…is an eclipse of the mind,” Omer Celik told a news conference. “The EU must act with reason.”

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Daren Butler, William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)

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