Eu leaders have opened the way to long-delayed sanctions on the regime in belarus, in a summit deal that patched over deep internal divisions on how to handle turkey.
Cyprus lifted its block on countermeasures against the government in minsk, after fellow member states agreed to issue a veiled threat of sanctions against ankara over its contentious mediterranean energy exploration.
The protracted talks that concluded in brussels early on friday morning showed the strains on maintaining unity in foreign policy for the eu, as it attempts to subdue tensions in its increasingly turbulent regional neighbourhood.
The negotiations were complicated further by ankaras alleged role in the escalating crisis in nagorno-karabakh, territory disputed by armenia and azerbaijan.
The 27 eu heads of state and government agreed that the sanctions against president alexander lukashenkos crackdown in belarus should now go ahead without delay, diplomats said. the formal approval process could be triggered as early as friday, they added.
Cyprus had previously held firm on its insistence that it would give the go-ahead for belarus sanctions only if the eu took tougher action against ankara than the largely symbolic travel bans and asset freezes imposed against two turkish petroleum corporation executives earlier this year.
The eu had agreed in principle in mid-august to impose sanctions on a list of belarus targets now about 40 names long, but it watched in frustration as the uk and canada imposed their own less extensive countermeasures earlier this week.the eu list does not include mr lukashenko for now, but he could be added.
In their summit conclusions, leaders called on the belarusian authorities to end violence and repression and release all detainees and political prisoners after the uprising against mr lukashenkos claimed landslide win in elections in august.
Josep borrell, eu foreign policy chief, has warned that the delay to belarus sanctions threatens the blocs credibility. he said last month that the eu needed to unify to deal with regions on its borders engulfed in flames from crises including libyas civil war and the increasingly militarised mediterranean stand-off with turkey.
The eu leaders agreed a compromise on turkey that threatened the use of all the instruments and options available, including a reference to legislation authorising sanctions. it also offered the possibility of a positive political eu-turkey agenda if ankara co-operated, including the modernisation of the customs union between the two powers.
Charles michel, european council president, said leaders had chosen a double-tracked approach: firmness on the one hand, and readiness to engage on the other hand.
Many eu member states want to build on what they see as a welcome recent lowering of tensions with ankara after the return to port of its vessel the oruc reis, which had been exploring for gas in territory claimed by greece and cyprus.
Angela merkel, the german chancellor, earlier on thursday said it was very much in the eus interest to develop a really constructive relationship with turkey, an important partner in cutting migration in europe and reducing regional conflict.
Cypriot relations with turkey have been shaped by ankaras military occupation of the northern part of the island in 1974, which created a divide on the island that endures after years of failed peace talks. the north declared itself an independent republic in 1983, but turkey is the only country to have recognised it as a sovereign state.
Emmanuel macron, frances president, had earlier sought to increase the pressure on ankara by claiming that syrian jihadists had travelled via turkish territory to fight in nagorno-karabakh on behalf of azerbaijan. baku has denied that any irregular forces are helping its troops.
Mr macron has taken an increasingly tough stance against turkey a nato ally after clashing with it over its support for the un-recognised government in tripoli in libyas civil war. france had backed the tripoli administrations opponent, renegade general khalifa haftar, but insists it no longer does so.