The US State Department has called on the Turkish authorities to remove its drilling vessels from the territorial waters around Cyprus and to cease immediately any “unlawful activities”.
The demand by Washington comes as Turkey has established a significant but illegal presence in the waters off the Mediterranean island; its Yavuz, Fatih and Barbaros research vessels are drilling in search of natural gas and energy reserves. Yesterday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that a fourth Turkish ship, the Oruc Reis research vessel, is en route to the area.
In response to questions from the Greek-language news outlets Hellas Journal and Cyprus News Agency, the State Department said that, “This provocative step raises tensions,” and that only the government of the Republic of Cyprus can consent to the drilling and any other activities within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Turkey claims that the EEZ also belongs to illegal administration of the island’s occupied areas, which it supports.
The State Department added that the development of natural resources in the Mediterranean should promote cooperation and lay the foundation for sustainable economic prosperity and energy security. The comments echo those made by the US Ambassador to Cyprus, Judith Garber, in early June, in which she expressed her deep concerns over Turkey’s drilling operations and urged it to halt the exploration for energy reserves in the surrounding waters.
“Resources should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement,” the ambassador insisted. “It is our earnest hope that such resources will soon benefit a united Cyprus.”
The US demand follows increasing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean region over the past couple of months, after the Turkish vessels were sent in retaliation for a deal struck by Greece, Republic of Cyprus and Israel in early June, in which the three states agreed to build a pipeline harnessing the reserves of natural gas off the southern shores of the island. The “EastMed” pipeline, which is estimated will produce a profit of $9 billion over eighteen years, will supply gas from the eastern Mediterranean region all the way to countries in Europe.
The tripartite deal, backed by the US, angered Turkey and prompted it to unacceptable demand equal access to the resources, a share of the reserves for itself and the illegal “TRNC”, and a stake in the deal, which was rejected. Turkey then insisted that it will continue its illegal drilling activities off the shores of Cyprus until its demand has been accepted, and that it is determined to protect the “rights” of the island’s Turkish population, who live in the occupied areas.