The Turkish foreign ministry on Wednesday rejected Greek and European Union (EU) claims that its drilling for gas and oil exploration off Cyprus is illegal.
The ministry further added that the EU’s stance could not be of an impartial intermediary in the negotiations on the Cyprus issue.
“We reject the statements by the Greek Foreign Ministry and EU officials which describe these activities of our country as illegitimate,” the ministry said.
The ministry said the Turkish drill-ships – the Fatih in the west of the island and the Yavuz in the east – were conducting the drills on a legal and legitimate basis. It referred to licenses previously granted to the Turkish Petroleum (TP). The United Nations (UN) was also notified of the granting of the licenses.
Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) – claim that certain areas in Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone, known as exclusive economic zone (EEZ), fall under Ankara’s jurisdiction or that of the Turkish Cypriots. The KKTC is a breakaway state in the north of the island which is recognized only by Turkey.
Cyprus and Greece have backing from the EU, the United States (US), as well as Israel and Egypt which have formed a cooperation bloc with the Greek side to drill for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Fatih has been anchored since early May and started drilling in June, while the Yavuz dropped anchor off Cyprus this week.
On Monday, the EU scolded Turkey following the Yavuz’s anchoring off Cyprus, referring to last month’s conclusions by the European Council (EC) stating that Turkey’s ‘illegal’ drilling lead to sanctions against it by the EU.
“It has become clear that the European Union is incapable of taking on a role as an impartial mediator in negotiation processes regarding a resolution to the Cyprus problem,” the Turkish ministry said.
On Tuesday, Greece’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias condemned Turkey’s planned drilling.
“We express our full solidarity with the Republic of Cyprus and we call once again on Turkey to immediately cease its illegal activities and to respect the sovereignty and sovereign rights of Cyprus.” Dendias’ ministry said.
The US State Department issued a statement on Tuesday in a bid to urge the Turkish authorities to halt drilling activities, defining the Yavuz’s deployment off Cyprus as a provocative step.
Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon expressed their rallying behind the Greek Cypriot regime.
“We follow with serious concern recent steps taken by Turkey in the waters off Cyprus’s northeast coast,” Nahshon said.
The Egyptian foreign ministry joined the chorus by stressing the need to avoid escalation, saying Turkey’s intention to drill “represents a continuation of unilateral measures that serve to increase tension in the Eastern Mediterranean region.”
The EU states’ ambassadors have been holding a two-day meeting on Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels, discussing sanctions to slap on Turkey, with a view to a public statement by the EU foreign ministers next Monday.
Potential measures could include suspension of EU-Turkey political and technical talks on issues such as energy and transport, besides some similar bilateral talks, according to a report on Wednesday by EUobserver which cited an EU diplomat.
The measures against Turkey could also consist of a reduction in EU’s pre-accession funding and of limiting the lending by the European Investment Bank (EIB) which loaned nearly €386 million to Turkey in 2018.
The EU may also implement targeted sanctions on individuals and businesses connected to Turkey’s drilling and production sectors, Bloomberg reported.
“The bloc’s foreign policy service would also advise member states to refrain from high-level contacts with Turkey,” Bloomberg cited an unnamed official as saying.