Reuters International

Bulgaria's Foreign Affairs Minister Daniel Mitov smiles as he arrives for an informal meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Ministers in Milan August 29, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

(reuters_tickers)

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - Turkey must apply an agreement with the European Union to readmit migrants before it can get visa-free travel to the bloc as part of a deal to stem the flow of migrants and refugees, Bulgaria's foreign minister said on Tuesday.

One million people fleeing conflicts in the Middle East arrived in Europe last year, many coming via Turkey, and several EU states, including Bulgaria, fear a fresh influx if the deal breaks down.

"The EU-Turkey agreement on migration needs to stand and be implemented," Daniel Mitov, whose country borders Turkey, told Reuters in an interview.

"What we want to emphasise is that the readmission agreement needs to be implemented before visa liberalisation."

The EU's relations with Turkey have become especially strained after EU governments criticised the scale of President Tayyip Erdogan's crackdown on those he accused of organising or backing the failed coup on July 15.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday Ankara's promise to accommodate war refugees on its territory would be rendered void if the EU did not uphold its pledge on visa-free travel.

"We need to continue the dialogue and find the way to downsize and decrease the temperature of the rhetoric that has emerged. We need to talk to each other and not at each other," said Mitov.

Bulgaria detained about 14,000 migrants in the first six months of 2016, compared with 21,000 in the same period last year.

EU SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA MUST STAY

Mitov also said his country would not back a lifting of EU sanctions on Russia, which he said had disregarded international law in the Ukraine crisis.

EU diplomats have said Russia's tactics of methodically lobbying southern and eastern EU member states is starting to erode the bloc's unity on sanctions imposed on Russia, making it potentially harder to renew them at the start of next year.

"Russia has blatantly and ruthlessly violated international order and law. That can't be left without consequences and the only peaceful instrument is sanctions.

"Until the Minsk agreements are fully implemented, I don't think there is any condition to ease sanctions. Quite the opposite," he said referring to accords aimed at restoring stability in Ukraine.

A loyal ally of Moscow in communist times, Bulgaria -- now a member of NATO -- remains almost entirely dependent on Russian energy supplies and many Bulgarians still feel a deep affinity with their giant neighbour across the Black Sea.

"It would be good for us if the economic relationship improved, but there are bigger issues on the table," Mitov said. "Trust has been lost and we need to rebuild this trust without propaganda or distortion of the truth."

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

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