The United States and European Union have expressed deep concern over Turkey’s plans for offshore drilling operations in an area claimed by Cyprus as its exclusive economic zone, adding to tensions between Ankara and its Western allies.
The statements at the weekend came after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “we are starting drilling” in the region.
Turkey and the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government have overlapping claims of jurisdiction for offshore oil and gas research in the eastern Mediterranean, a region thought to be rich in natural gas.
“The United States is deeply concerned by Turkey’s announced intentions to begin offshore drilling operations in an area claimed by the Republic of Cyprus as its Exclusive Economic Zone,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said on Sunday.
“This step is highly provocative and risks raising tensions in the region. We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint.”
Cavusoglu said that Turkish seismic research vessel Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa was continuing work in the region.
The Cyprus foreign ministry said it “strongly condemns” Turkey’s drilling operations within its exclusive economic zone.
“This provocative action by Turkey constitutes a flagrant violation of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus,” it said on Saturday.
Speaking at NATO’s North Atlantic Council Mediterranean Dialogue meeting in Ankara on Monday, President Tayyip Erdogan said he expected NATO to support Turkey’s rights in the Mediterranean.
“The legitimate rights of Turkey and the Northern Cypriot Turks over energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean are not open for argument. Our country is determined to defend its rights and those of Cypriot Turks,” he said. “We expect NATO to respect Turkey’s rights in this process and support us in preventing tensions.”
Breakaway north Cyprus, which is supported by Turkey, 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 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Countless peacemaking endeavors have failed and offshore resources have increasingly complicated peace negotiations.