U.S. ‘deeply concerned’ by Turkish drilling off Cyprus

The United States said it is concerned that Turkish moves to drill for hydrocarbons off the coast of Cyprus are leading to rising tensions in the region, Voice of America said on Thursday. “The United States remains deeply concerned by drilling activities in waters off Cyprus,” VOA quoted U.S. Under Secretary of State Matthew Palmer as saying at an international conference in Greece.

“The actions raise tensions in the region and we again urge Turkish authorities to halt all drilling operations off Cyprus,” Palmer added. The statement marks Washington’s strongest diplomatic intervention yet in a long-running and escalating energy feud between Greece and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, and in particular off the Cypriot coast.

The island has been split since 1974 between a Greek-Cypriot administration in the south, recognised internationally, and a breakaway Turkish-Cypriot government in the north recognised only by Turkey. Turkey has made clear its intentions to drill in areas to the west of the divided island, in spite of protests from the Greek Cypriot side and its allies that some of the areas explored by Turkish vessels lie in the Cypriot state’s claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Ankara says Northern Cyprus has a right to a share in the hydrocarbon reserves and that it is drilling in areas within its continental shelf. Ankara has sent two drilling vessels – Fatih and most recently Yavuz –
to the eastern Mediterranean since last spring.

Turkey’s Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez said last week that Turkey may begin oil exploration in the eastern Mediterranean within three or four months as part of a maritime border deal signed with Libya – which Greece and Cyprus say is illegal – intended to allow Ankara to explore for natural gas and oil and exploit hundreds of kilometers of Mediterranean seabed from its southeast coast to northern Libya.

Turkey maintains that the deal also gives it the right to survey Greek waters, but VOA quoted the U.S. ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt, as saying that Ankara’s interpretation of maritime law in this treaty is wrong. “It is unhelpful and provocative in any term but most importantly it can take no rights away from Greece,” Pyatt said. In recent days both Turkey and Greece have said they are prepared to go to war to protect themselves.

Last week, Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos called Turkey aggressive and said military confrontation was possible. “I believe that the only way for Greece to deal with this behaviour is on the one hand to exhaust all its diplomatic weapons and on the other hand to ensure an increase in the deterrent power of the armed forces,” Panagiotopoulos said. In response, his Turkish counterpart seemed to suggest that Greece was bluffing.

“I do not think Greece would want to go to war with Turkey,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Wednesday in a televised interview. Palmer advised both sides to pull back from any notion of confrontation. “As an ally, the U.S. is concerned that the increasing tensions between Greece and Turkey could result in an incident or accident that leads to unintended consequences,” Palmer said.

“In the past we have seen incidents in the regions escalate quickly. We urge Greece and Turkey to ensure that the channels of communication remain open between these two NATO allies.”

Source: Ahval