NATO must have a discussion on Turkey’s conduct in several issues, Reuters quoted a French official as saying on Wednesday, who accused the Turkish navy of harassing a French warship enforcing a U.N. arms embargo in the Mediterranean.
France called on Monday for NATO members to discuss Turkey’s involvement in Libya, ahead of a meeting of the alliance’s defence ministers this week.
The French defence ministry official told Reuters that NATO should draw attention to Ankara’s “unacceptable” conduct in other issues, including Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defence system and blocking NATO defence planning in Eastern Europe.
“We have known complicated moments in the alliance, but we can’t be an ostrich and can’t pretend there isn’t a Turkey problem at NATO. We have to see it, say it and handle it,” said the official.
The French official cited a case in which they said Turkish naval ships escorting a cargo ship acted aggressively towards a French warship on a NATO mission to enforce a U.N. arms embargo on Libya.
Despite embargo, Turkey signed a military cooperation deal with Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), sending drones, armoured vehicles, Syrian mercenaries and military advisors to help the GNA repel an offensive by the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, to seize the capital Tripoli.
Cirkin, the Turkish vessel suspected of smuggling weapons to Libya, had “switched off its tracking system, masked its ID number and refused to say where it was going”, the official said, while accusing the Turkish navy escorts of using NATO call signals to cover for the Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship.
“It was an extremely aggressive act and cannot be the action of an ally who is working within NATO under the command of NATO,” they said.
A senior Turkish official rejected the accusation that the Turkish navy had taken provocative or aggressive action against the French warship, according to Reuters.
CNN Greece last Wednesday reported a separate incident in which a Greek frigate, part of EU’s Operation Irini, approached the Cirkin near Crete, but was turned around by the ship’s Turkish military escort.
Operation Irini was launched on April 1 to support the U.N. arms embargo “through the use of aerial, satellite and maritime assets”, according to the European Council. However, Turkey says the EU naval operation focuses too much on the GNA but not the LNA.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday the Turkish warships told Operation Irini that the Cirkin was shipping medical supplies bound for Libya, the Associated Press reported.
Borrell is expected to participate in the video conference with NATO defence ministers on Thursday, AP said.
The EU and NATO “are discussing how to establish a new arrangement of cooperation – not participation – cooperation between Operation Irini and NATO, once again in our shared interest” to enforce the U.N. arms embargo, said Borrell.