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 comes as Turkey has established a significant 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 Southern Cyprus can consent to the drilling and any other activities within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Turkey claims that the EEZ also belongs to the northern administration of the island, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), 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, Southern 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 demand equal access to the resources, a share of the reserves for itself and the TRNC, and a stake in the deal, which was rejected. Turkey then insisted that it will continue its drilling activities off the shores of Cyprus until its offer has been accepted, and that it is determined to protect the rights of the island’s Turkish population and northern Cypriots.
Since Turkey’s seizure of the northern part of Cyprus in 1974 for the protection of its Turkish inhabitants, the two sides have faced disputes and tensions, as well as an attempt to hold talks. In 2017, these talks collapsed but, despite this, the Greek Cypriot side has continued to explore energy resources around the island.