EU warns Turkey over plans to drill off Cyprus

The European Union (EU) warned Turkey on Thursday about its drilling activities within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Cyprus.

European Council (EC) President Donald Tusk said the EU stood behind Cyprus in a dispute with Turkey over offshore drilling operations.

“The EU expects Turkey to respect the sovereign rights of EU member states. The EC will continue to follow these developments closely,” Tusk said at a news conference after an informal EU summit in Romania.

During the summit, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told fellow EU leaders that Turkey has been launching a bid to drill for gas in waters within the Cyprus EEZ.

Cypriot authorities claimed that the Turkish drill ship, Fatih, has been anchored about 68 kilometers (42 miles) off the southwestern Cypriot resort town of Paphos, with a Turkish navy frigate escorting it, but that it hasn’t yet started drilling.

The Cypriot president proposed that the EU consider introducing economic sanctions against Turkish individuals and companies involved in illegal exploratory drilling off the Cyprus coast, describing Turkish actions as tantamount to a new invasion.

Some EU leaders declared support for Anastasiades, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel remained non-committal to the prospect of sanctions. The issue of sanctions against Turkey was set to be discussed after the European elections on May 23-26.

Turkey and EU member, Cyprus, have overlapping claims of jurisdiction for offshore oil and gas research in the eastern Mediterranean region where it is thought to be rich in natural gas.

The Western countries, including the United States (US), have expressed deep concern over Turkey’s plans for offshore drilling operations in an area where Cyprus claims as its EEZ.

“The US is deeply concerned by Turkey’s announced intentions to begin offshore drilling operations in an area claimed by the Republic of Cyprus as its EEZ,” Morgan Ortagus, the US State Department spokesperson said on Sunday.

The US statement came after an announcement by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Saturday.

“We will conduct drilling in areas of Turkey’s continental shelf and we are starting our drilling work at points identified by our seismic research vessel,” the minister said in northern Cyprus.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he expected NATO to support Turkey’s rights in the Mediterranean, speaking at NATO’s North Atlantic Council Mediterranean Dialogue meeting in Ankara.

“The legitimate rights of Turkey and the Northern Cypriot Turks over energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean are not open for argument,” Erdogan said.

Supported by Turkey, breakaway north Cyprus says that any offshore wealth also belongs to them as partners in the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960.

The island was divided in 1974, after a Turkish invasion in response to an attempted coup by supporters of uniting the island with Greece.

So far, countless peacemaking endeavors have failed, with offshore drilling matters complicating the peace negotiations between the Mediterranean island nation and Turkey.

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