Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sending of two research vessels into Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to look for oil and gas – protected by warships – has the United States jittery it could bring a conflict.
Turkish ships are precariously near those of foreign companies licensed by Cyprus to drill for energy, including US giant ExxonMobil, which has reported a major gas find, and France’s Total and Italy’s ENI, one of whose ships had been scared off by a Turkish gunboat.
The US, joining the European Union, said Turkey should back off but with relations withering between Washington and Ankara over Erdogan’s insistence on buying a Russian S-400 missile defense system that could jeopardize NATO – to which Turkey belongs – the tension is rising.
US Ambassador to Cyprus Judith Garber, speaking during the Independence Day reception hosted at the US Embassy in Nicosia, in the presence of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Palmer, said the anxiety is up.
Garber noted that the US Cyprus’ right to develop resources in its EEZ at the same time the US is trying to walk a fine line with Turkey, which also wants to buy American-made F-35 fighter jets and hosts a US military presence on a key base.
“We also believe these resources should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement. It is our earnest hope that such resources will soon benefit a united Cyprus,” she added, said Kathimerini Cyprus.
Anastasiades had already offered to share any potentially lucrative energy revenues with the occupying Turkish-Cypriots who live on the northern third of the island seized by Turkey in a 1974 invasion.
But that wasn’t enough for Erdogan, who bars Cypriot ships and planes and won’t recognize the legitimate government, instead only the occupied territory, alone in the world in doing so. He wants Turkish-Cypriots to share the licensing of companies as well.
The last round of talks to reunify the island fell apart in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they would never remove an army in the occupied part and wanted the right to militarily intervene.
Turkey wants to join the European Union, to which Cyprus belongs, and now energy has become another complicating catalyst, especially with Egyptian and Israeli companies also getting involved in a pipeline project.
Garber said the US hopes that the resources promote prosperity in the entire Eastern Mediterranean and help to diversify Europe’s energy supply, the paper added but it has become a dividing element in the fight for the potential riches and control of the seas.
Anastasiades said he was grateful for US and EU support “on this crucial matter through opposing to Turkey’s illegal drilling plans and fully supporting the unhindered exercise by the Republic of its sovereign rights to explore and exploit its natural resources.”
He added that,“Our aim remains none other than to maintain the current momentum and to continue working on a positive agenda so as to further reinforce this mutually beneficial relationship,” with the US wanting a greater role on the island.
GREECE CHIMES IN
With the United States worried about an accidental conflict, Greek Defense Minister Evangelos Apostolakis said he, too, fears there could be a clash over Turkey’s incursions in the East Mediterranean and plans to drill for oil and gas in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ.)
The Cypriot government has licensed foreign companies to hunt for energy in those waters, including US giant ExxonMobil, which has already reported finding a major gas field, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sent two energy vessels and warship into the region as well.
“I am concerned about Turkey’s destabilizing role and problematic stance expressed through unfounded allegations that violate our national sovereignty and rights,” Apostolakis told the 35th Congress of the World Coordination Committee of the Cyprus Struggle (PSEKA) in Washington, D.C.
He said that he was glad for a greater US presence in regional cooperative defense projects, saying it sends a “consistent and clear” message. “Strategic cooperation with the United States, coupled with our commitment to NATO, is a defence priority for us,” he said, although Turkey is also a member of the defense alliance which has said nothing.
Referring to the growing escalation of tension between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, the Director of the US State Department’s Office of Southern European Affairs, Yuri Kim, said Washington wants to prevent conflict from breaking out in the region.