As Turkey Objects to Cyprus Energy Drilling, US Pushes Calm

FILE - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, left, shake hands during their meeting at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Trying to straddle both sides, the United States said Cyprus has a right to let foreign energy companies – including an American firm – hunt for oil and gas off the island as Turkey stepped up its complaints and warnings.

The US State Department said Washington discourages any act or rhetoric that would raise tensions in the region with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan having said he wouldn’t sit still if the drilling goes on after he had earlier sent warships to keep an Italian vessel away.

The US though said the Cypriots should share any potentially lucrative finds of oil or gas with Turkish-Cypriots who’ve been unlawfully occupying the northern third of the island since a 1974 invasion that has seen a 30,000-strong army staying in place.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades had already agreed to revenue sharing but Erdogan said it wasn’t enough and that Turkish-Cypriots should take part in the licensing process as Turkey said it would conduct its own drilling in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Greece, which along with Turkey and the United Kingdom, the former Colonial ruler which still has a base on the island, are guarantors of security Cyprus, said Turkey has to back off provocations in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean.

“We will continue our close cooperation stemming from the respect of international law, ignoring any noises that dispute rights deriving from the law of the sea and the international agreements that our countries have signed,” said Alternate Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos, who met with Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides on the sidelines of the Council of Foreign Affairs in Brussels, Kathimerini said.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said earlier drilling operations by ExxonMobil could disrupt the delicate balance in the Eastern Mediterranean and affect the collapsed Cyprus reunification hopes.

“We renew our warnings to companies participating in the Greek Cypriots’ one-sided exploration and drilling. We remind them that sharing the natural resources of the island of Cyprus relates to the core of the Cyprus issue,” he said, adding that Cyprus must stop “its unilateral hydrocarbon exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean region.”