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EU could hit Turkey with arms embargo as Germany halts exports

People look on as smoke rises from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, in a picture taken from the Turkish side of the border in Ceylanpinar on October 11, 2019.

OZAN KOSE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES/TNS

By NIKOS CHRYSOLORAS, ALEXANDER WEBER AND JONAS CHO WALSGARD | Bloomberg News | Published: October 12, 2019

BRUSSELS (Tribune News Service) — European Union leaders may settle on an arms embargo on Turkey over its incursion into Syria as soon as next week, four officials familiar with the discussions said.

It would send a strong signal to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government and drag Ankara’s relations with its NATO allies to a new low. The officials said the decision could be made over a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17-18.

Germany said Saturday that it stopped shipments of military equipment, while France has said the EU must decide on sanctions as a fitting response to the Turkish offensive against Kurds in Syria. At stake, according to France, is the question of Turkey’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The arms embargo was floated at a gathering of EU diplomats on Friday, one of the officials said. Klara Linder, spokeswoman for Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ann Linde, said her country will formally propose the measure at a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in Luxembourg on Monday.

The spat over Turkey’s controversial intervention in Syria adds to a series of disputes — from sliding democratic standards to drilling activities off the coast of Cyprus — which have strained relations between Ankara and the EU to breaking point. The bloc has already suspended Turkish accession negotiations and most bilateral contacts, and said it may adopt punitive measures targeting Turkey’s hydrocarbon exploration sector.

Germany’s decision to halt shipments to one of the biggest clients for its defense industry adds to signs that some European powers may be willing to absorb the financial blow from the deteriorating ties. In 2018, deliveries to Turkey made up almost one-third of German arms exports of 770.8 million euros ($851 million), according to Bild am Sonntag.

The Turkish attack against Kurdish forces that played a key role in defeating Islamic State terrorists has infuriated the EU. “Turkey must understand that our main concern is that their actions may lead to another humanitarian catastrophe, which would be unacceptable,” EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Friday.

President Erdogan appears unmoved by the prospect of further acrimony in Ankara’s relations with Europe or calls by U.S. Senate and Congress members to punish Ankara over its Kurdish operation. This week, he threatened to “open the doors” for 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey to seek shelter in Europe.

While Tusk responded that the EU won’t be intimidated or allow refugees to be “weaponized and used to blackmail” Europe, Erdogan’s comments highlight how the bloc may be walking a fine line.

Despite renewed tensions, the EU is wary of an escalation that would risk a landmark 2016 migration agreement, under which Turkey stemmed the bulk of refugee flows to Europe in exchange for financial assistance. Last week, countries such as Hungary were wary of issuing a joint EU communique condemning the Turkish invasion, out of concerns the confrontation may endanger the migration agreement, according to of the officials familiar with the matter.

Imposing an arms embargo at EU level would require a unanimous decision by the bloc’s leaders. Sweden’s Linder said Stockholm hopes that it will get support for its proposal but can’t speculate.

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Walsgard reported from Oslo. Eleni Chrepa and Sotiris Nikas contributed to this report.

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