EU ministers weigh response amid Turkey's northern Syria offensive
World / 14 October 2019, 2:37pm / By Ella Joyner and Helen Maguire
Luxembourg - EU foreign ministers are meeting on Monday with the bloc's response to Turkey's military incursion into northern Syria, including a possible EU-wide arms embargo, at the top of the agenda.
Now is not the time to slap economic sanctions on Ankara, according to Germany's foreign minister. "It is important that we stay in dialogue with Turkey," Heiko Maas said. "If this is not successful, we must be prepared to take further measures."
Last week, Turkey launched an operation in north-eastern Syria targeting Kurdish militias. Ankara considers them to be linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which is waging an insurgency within the country.
The incursion has drawn condemnation from Turkey's Western allies amid fears of a severe humanitarian crisis.
Berlin has halted the export of arms to Turkey that could be used in Syria, in line with decisions taken by France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and Norway.
Sweden has called for an EU-wide arms embargo, as well as floating the possibility of imposing restrictive measures on individuals.
Foreign ministers from Latvia, Finland and Austria expressed interest in the proposal for a coordinated weapons export ban on Monday, and their Italian counterpart Luigi di Maio has already voiced support.
"Are we going to achieve that? This is another question," Latvian Edgars Rinkevics said. "It's always not easy to find agreement immediately among 28 member states."
The Turkish offensive could force the NATO member's allies to get involved, according to Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, should the Syrian government retaliate and attack Turkey.
"Article five of the NATO pact states that all other countries must help to defend a country if it is attacked," Asselborn said, describing the situation as "extraordinary."
No sanctions decisions are expected at Monday's talks in Luxembourg, according to EU diplomats.
But the talks are important ahead of a meeting of EU leaders later this week, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Monday, where the matter is to be be discussed again.
The European Union has warned that Turkey's operation threatens to destabilize the region, exacerbate civilian suffering, trigger large population displacements and threaten progress achieved against the Islamic State (IS) extremist organization.
Ahead of Turkey's incursion, codenamed Operation Peace Spring, the United States had withdrawn around 50 troops from the region, effectively clearing the way for the operation. US President Donald Trump has since condemned it, threatening Turkey with sanctions.
French Foreign Minister Jeans-Yves Le Drian called on Monday for a special meeting of the states belonging to the anti-IS fighting coalition, which includes Turkey, the US and a number of European states.
Monday's talks, attended by UN Syria envoy Geir Pedersen, cover a range of other issues, including Turkish offshore drilling activities near Cyprus.
Developments in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan are also on the agenda, while the ministers will meet their Ukrainian counterpart Vadym Prystaiko over lunch.