EU Leaders May Impose Weapons Embargo on Turkey Over Syria

Nikos Chrysoloras, Alexander Weber and Jonas Cho Walsgard

(Bloomberg) -- European Union leaders may decide on an arms embargo on Turkey over its incursion into Syria as soon as next week, said four officials familiar with the discussions.

The potential move would send a strong signal to President 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 and France said Saturday they stopped shipments of military equipment. The French government said Monday’s meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers would be an opportunity to set out the bloc’s 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. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, without mentioning any prospect of a weapons embargo, said he’d called Erdogan and urged negotiation.

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 Monday’s meeting in Luxembourg.

The spat over Turkey’s 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 771 million euros ($851 million), according to Bild am Sonntag.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle before Germany announced its embargo, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said any such move would “just strengthen us.”

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.

Refugees Threat

Erdogan appears unmoved by the prospect of further acrimony in Ankara’s relations with Europe or calls by U.S. lawmakers 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 tightrope.

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.

(Adds French embargo in third paragraph.)

--With assistance from Eleni Chrepa and Sotiris Nikas.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nikos Chrysoloras in Brussels at nchrysoloras@bloomberg.net;Alexander Weber in Brussels at aweber45@bloomberg.net;Jonas Cho Walsgard in Oslo at jchowalsgard@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, ;Flavia Krause-Jackson at fjackson@bloomberg.net, James Ludden, Ros Krasny

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