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World News

EU faces summit impasse on Belarus sanctions as Cyprus stands firm

FILE PHOTO: European Union (EU) and Cypriot flags flutter atop the Presidential palace in Nicosia February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Cyprus will stand firm at a summit of European Union leaders over the bloc’s proposed sanctions on Belarus on Thursday, insisting that they can only be imposed if sanctions are also slapped on its neighbour, Turkey, a Cypriot diplomat said.

“To release the Belarus file we have to have an agreement on our proposals as well,” the diplomat said, adding that Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades met Charles Michel, who will chair the two-day summit, on Wednesday to lay out Nicosia’s position.

“I imagine there will be a long discussion in the European Council. I’m not excluding that something might come out of it but, as of now, I wouldn’t put money on having a happy outcome.”

The EU vowed a month ago to impose sanctions on Belarus for alleged election fraud and human rights abuses, but the consensus-driven union has been prevented from fulfilling that promise by Cyprus, one of its smallest members.

Cyprus says it cannot support the proposed sanctions against Belarus officials unless action is taken in parallel against Turkey over a separate dispute over energy resources that has raised tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey began drilling for oil and gas near Cyprus last year despite warnings from Brussels, and fears of a military escalation mounted over the summer after NATO allies Greece and Turkey held naval drills in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The diplomat rejected criticism from some EU member states that Cyprus’ veto on the Belarus sanctions was undermining the credibility of the bloc to take foreign policy action in its backyard, pointing out that Turkey is the EU’s backyard too.

He said that for Cypriots this was “a national issue” and so “if we have to be alone we have to be alone”.

“The (Cypriot) president is between a rock and a hard place in the sense that even the opposition said that the move on Belarus was good. So he cannot go back home having released the Belarus file without having anything tangible to show for that.”

Reporting by John Chalmers

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