EU warns Turkey of sanctions as east Mediterranean crisis worsens

The European Union (EU) has threatened Turkey with fresh sanctions - including tough economic measures - unless progress is made in reducing soaring tensions with Greece and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell on Friday said the bloc wanted to give "a serious chance to dialogue" but was steadfast in its support for member states Greece and Cyprus in the dispute, which has raised fears of a military standoff.

A dispute over maritime borders and gas drilling rights near the island of Cyprus has reignited the long-running rivalry between Athens and Ankara, with the two neighbors staging rival naval drills.

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EU foreign ministers meeting for talks in Berlin agreed to a request from Cyprus to sanction more individuals for their role in Turkey's exploratory drilling in waters claimed by the island.

Borrell urged Ankara to "abstain from unilateral actions" as a basic condition to allow dialogue -- which Germany is trying to broker -- to advance.

"We agreed that in the absence of progress in engaging Turkey we could develop a list of further restrictive measures that could be discussed at the European Council on September 24 and 25," Borrell said after the talks.

Asked what these measures might entail, Borrell said sanctions could be extended to ships or other assets involved in the drilling, as well as prohibiting the use of EU ports and supplies and restricting "economic and financial infrastructure related with this activity."

Borrell was speaking after EU foreign ministers met in Berlin to discuss support for Greece after it ratified a maritime accord with Egypt to counter Turkey's claims to energy resources in the region.

'Beyond the limits of EU'

But there was anger from Turkey, which said the EU's "unconditional" support for what it called Greece and Cyprus's "maximalist" positions ignored Ankara's legitimate claims and was itself a source of tension.

"It is beyond the limits of the EU to criticize the hydrocarbon activities of our country within our own continental shelf and demand that we stop them," spokesman Hami Aksoy said.

"As Turkey each time emphasises dialogue and diplomacy, the EU's recourse to the language of sanctions will not help solve the resolution of existing problems and will in fact push our country's determination further," Hami Aksoy said in a statement.

"If the EU wants to find a solution in the eastern Mediterranean, they should act without bias and should be an honest mediator."

Two senior EU diplomats told Reuters news agency that foreign ministers agreed to leave any decision to EU government leaders, who are set to meet for a two-day summit from September 24.

"Nothing will be decided before the September European Council," a senior diplomat said, adding that Turkey could also be rewarded with greater access to the EU's market of 450 million consumers if it curtailed its drilling.

German's foreign minister said on Tuesday, warning of the risk of a military confrontation.

"The current situation in the eastern Mediterranean is equivalent to playing with fire," Heiko Maas said in Athens. "Every little spark can lead to catastrophe."

Maas, who will also hold talks with Turkish officials in the hope of de-escalating the situation, said Germany and its EU partners stood alongside Greece in its dispute with Turkey.

(With input from agencies)