EU gov’ts agree on limiting arms exports to Turkey after Syria incursion

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German Foreign minister Heiko Maas gives a joint press conference with President of the EU Commission (unseen) after their bilateral meeting on April 13, 2018 at the EU Headquarters in Brussels. / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS

European Union governments agreed on Monday to limit arms exports to Turkey over its offensive in northern Syria, stopping short of a bloc-wide embargo on a NATO ally, Reuters reported.

Italy, the top arms exporter to Turkey last year, said it would join a ban on selling weapons and ammunition to Ankara after a weekend decision by France and Germany to suspend sales, and Spain signaled it was ready to do so.

With a host of other countries including the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden halting such exports, the EU’s collective position was mainly aimed at avoiding a legally binding embargo on Turkey, a longtime candidate to join the bloc.

A full embargo would have grouped Turkey with Venezuela and Russia, countries where the EU has a formal ban and views them as hostile, a move diplomats said ministers were not ready to take despite anger at President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“We do not wish to support this war and do not want to make arms available,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

In their statement after a four-hour-long debate in Luxembourg, ministers agreed to “commit to strong national positions regarding their arms export policy to Turkey.”

Via Facebook, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on the sidelines of the meeting, “In the next few hours, Italy too will sign a ban on the export of arms to Turkey”.

Belgium also said it backed stopping arms exports.

Turkey’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Sadık Arslan, a former Erdoğan adviser, dismissed the EU measures as a “joke.” He told reporters that “we have enough of an industrial base to substitute them with our much better systems.”

The EU exported 45 million euros ($50 million) worth of arms and ammunition to Turkey last year, including missiles, according to EU statistics office Eurostat, with Italy the main vendor, followed by Spain, Britain and Germany.

Sales of aircraft to Turkey, although not all military, amounted to 1.4 billion euros last year, according to Eurostat, led by France. The EU is the top foreign investor in Turkey.

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