The European Union is preparing to sanction Turkey over its actions in the eastern Mediterranean, where a confrontation between Turkish and Greek military ships is raising the risk of open conflict between NATO allies over claims of drilling rights for natural gas.

Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borell on Friday said EU was expressing solidarity with Greece and Cyprus and against Turkey’s violation of their territorial waters. Ankara maintains that the sovereign boundaries of the waters are contested.

“We are clear and determined in defending European Union’s interests and solidarity with Greece and Cyprus,” Borell said, following an informal meeting of the 27-nation bloc’s foreign ministers.

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“Turkey has to refrain from unilateral actions. … For this reason, we must walk a fine line between preserving a true space for dialogue and, at the same time, showing collective strength in the defence of our common interests,” he added. 

Borell said the sanctions will first target persons identified by Cyprus as participating in the illegal activity of drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, but could expand to sanctioning assets such as ships or the use of European ports, technology and supplies.

The sanctions against Turkey come amid increasingly sour relations between Ankara and its NATO allies. Borell said wider discussions surrounding Turkey’s behavior are essential but that the EU is focusing on supporting Greek and Cyprus first.

“We will have to talk about a lot of pending issues that are poisoning our relationship,” he said.

“But for the time being, the most pressing and urgent thing is to solve the question of the drillings and the presence of Turkish boats in Greek and Cypriot waters, which is something dangerous,” he added. “I do not think that the other things are not important, but they are not so urgent.”

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Turkey has increasingly encroached in the eastern Mediterranean in territorial waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus and are believed to be a deep well of resources for natural gas.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry rejected the E.U.’s stance and told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stotenberg that Turkey will continue to protect its rights and interests everywhere, Reuters reported

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: House chair announces contempt proceeding against Pompeo | Top general says military has no role in election disputes | Appeal court rejects due process rights for Gitmo detainees European Union sets stage for sanctions on Turkey Meadows dismisses criticism of Trump using White House for acceptance speech MORE this month undertook rapid shuttle diplomacy between the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey following the accidental collision of warships in the eastern Mediterranean as both countries increased their military presence in the waters.

Pompeo at the time emphasized “the urgent need to reduce tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean” on the sidelines of his diplomatic travel to Central and Eastern Europe and the Dominican Republic.

Pompeo, who met with the Greek foreign minister in Vienna, underscored “the strong U.S.-Greece bilateral relationship” while at a meeting with his Turkish counterpart two days later, he “discussed issues of mutual concern.”

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