BRUSSELS - European Union foreign ministers on Monday turned up the pressure on Turkey after approving an initial batch of sanctions against the country over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.
The ministers said in a statement that in light of Turkey's "continued and new illegal drilling activities,'' they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement and would call on the European Investment Bank to “review'' it's lending to the country.
They also backed a proposal by the EU's executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional "targeted measures'' were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu issued his own warning last week that his country would step up drilling activities off Cyprus if the EU moved ahead with sanctions. Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus.
The EU ministers repeated the "serious immediate negative impact'' that Turkey's illegal actions are having on EU-Turkey relations and called on Ankara to respect Cyprus' sovereign rights in line with international law. They also welcomed the Cypriot government's invitation to Turkey to negotiate the borders of their respective exclusive economic zones and continental shelf.
Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state and claims 44% of Cyprus' exclusive economic zone as its own, according to Cyprus government officials. Turkish Cypriots in the east Mediterranean island nation's breakaway north claim another 25%.
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