Turkey delivers hand sanitiser snub to EU's Borrell after rejecting European pleas

Impasse at Ankara summit over Mediterranean disputes during two-day visit by EU's foreign policy chief

Mr Borrell's visit to Ankara came amid heightened tensions over Turkey's actions in the Mediterranean. EPA
Mr Borrell's visit to Ankara came amid heightened tensions over Turkey's actions in the Mediterranean. EPA

Turkey is accused of a calculated insult to Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, by presenting him with a bottle of hand sanitiser in a wooden box during a two-day visit to Ankara.

The high representative for foreign affairs had rebuked Turkey over its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and its deepening crisis with France.

After encountering Turkish pushback at a news conference with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Mr Borrell looked stunned when his host handed him the gift.

Analysts said it was a pointed gesture in line with Turkey’s increasingly assertive foreign policy.

“In a quest to assert its national sovereignty, Ankara is willing to deploy symbolic insult in conducting its diplomacy,” wrote Sinem Adar, an associate at the German Institute of International and Security Affairs.

“The gift-giving performance at the end of the press conference is an example of this.”

Mr Borrell's visit to Ankara came amid heightened tensions over Turkey's actions in the Mediterranean. EPA
Mr Borrell's visit to Ankara came amid heightened tensions over Turkey's actions in the Mediterranean. EPA

Mr Borrell has been reluctant to take up a French push for sanctions against Turkey.

Paris last month accused Turkish naval vessels of aggressive behaviour towards one of its frigates which was assigned to stop arms smuggling to Tripoli.

The Turkish declaration of a maritime zone shared with Libya, meanwhile, infringes the territorial waters of countries, especially Cyprus. Ankara has refused to engage with pleas for dialogue.

“It’s time to create a way forward, conducive to confidence building, dialogue, good neighbourhood relations, stability and security,” Mr Borrell said. “This cannot be done by unilateral actions.

“Currently, the situation is far from being ideal. We have a mutual interest to get out of this situation and chart a new and positive trajectory.”

Mr Borrell also met Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, who last week met his country’s allies in Tripoli.

Turkey has sent extremist fighters and weapons to territory controlled by the Government of National Accord.

With the EU set to discuss widening sanctions on Turkey at a meeting next week, Mr Borrell called for Ankara to respect Nato missions in the Mediterranean after the clash with the French.

“It’s not acceptable that between the navies of two [Nato] members these kinds of situations can happen,” he said.

Mr Borrell pressed for an overhaul of a 2016 agreement between Turkey and the EU, in which €3 billion (Dh12.42bn/$3.38bn) was given to Ankara to curb the flow of migrants from Turkey to Europe.

The arrangement unravelled in late February, when Turkey opened its border to Greece for migrants and refugees.

Greek forces retaliated, leading to scenes of chaos and violence, the deaths of at least two migrants and hundreds of injuries.

France is pulling out of a Nato maritime security mission in the Mediterranean maritime until it gets a response to its concerns over the behaviour of fellow member Turkey. AFP
France is pulling out of a Nato maritime security mission in the Mediterranean maritime until it gets a response to its concerns over the behaviour of fellow member Turkey. AFP

Ankara has rebuffed EU demands for a renewed commitment to the deal, claiming Brussels was siding with Greece in a localised dispute.

Mr Cavusoglu said Turkey would not accept a revision of the agreement with new conditions, such as concessions on Cyprus.

Last week, France temporarily suspended its role in a Nato maritime security operation after it accused Turkey of breaching a UN arms embargo in Libya, where the two countries support different sides.

It followed the dispute on whether a Turkish naval radar “lit up” a French frigate in June.

Updated: July 8, 2020 09:12 AM

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