European Union leaders are set to agree sanctions on Turkish individuals on Thursday over a energy exploration dispute with Greece and Cyprus, but will postpone any harsher steps until March, according to a new draft summit statement.
Shying away from a threat made in October to consider wider economic measures, EU leaders will agree to punish individuals accused of planning or taking part in what the bloc says is unauthorised drilling off Cyprus.
The EU said it would seek to coordinate possible further measures with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office in January.
Turkey says it is operating in waters on its own continental shelf or areas where Turkish Cypriots have rights. Its president Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he was not concerned by any sanctions the bloc might impose.
The EU asset freezes of as-yet unnamed individuals and companies will be in addition to two officials already on a sanctions list set up in November 2019, as first reported by Reuters on Wednesday.
"Turkey has engaged in unilateral actions and provocations and escalated its rhetoric against the EU," according to the draft statement prepared by EU envoys that leaders are expected to endorse after a summit discussion over dinner on Thursday.
EU leaders will tell officials "to adopt additional listings ... in view of Turkey's unauthorised drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean," the latest draft said.
Senior EU diplomats described the proposed sanctions as symbolic because the bloc was reluctant to severely punish Turkey, a NATO ally and candidate for EU membership, whose economy and currency are already weak.
In 2011, the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government began exploring for natural gas with a U.S. company despite warnings from Turkey, which does not recognise the divided island's status and claims exploration rights.
Tensions flared in August when Ankara sent a seismic exploration ship into Cyprus' exclusive economic zone and also in waters claimed by Greece. The EU, led by Germany, has been trying to negotiate a settlement but without success.
Angered by Turkish foreign policy in Syria and Libya, France has supported Greek calls for tougher sanctions. The European Parliament last month called for punitive measures. Athens has called for a formal arms embargo on Turkey.