WASHINGTON – Cyprus’ hopes of getting a boost in its standoff with Turkey got a setback when outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put off a trip to help deal with the aftermath of a breach of the US Embassy compound in Baghdad by militia.
While Pompeo will leave his position to run for the US Senate from his home state of Kansas, his office said he still hoped to reschedule a visit to Cyprus, where the US has given support to the legitimate government’s licensing of foreign companies to drill for oil and gas offshore.
The Cyprus News Agency reported Pompeo would be coming to talk about US-Cyprus relations, the lifting of an arms embargo and an energy partnership act in the East Mediterranean that includes Greece and Israel, and perhaps Italy.
It would be a balancing act for Pompeo as the US backs Cypriot’s right to license foreign energy companies to hunt in the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) but President Donald Trump is a supporter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has raised anxieties to a near-conflict level with drilling in areas his country claims.
A bilateral agreement was expected to be signed, something that was discussed during Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides’ recent visit to Washington, the news agency said as it cited sources not identified.
Pompeo was to meet Christodoulides, and President Nicos Anastasiades before crossing into the occupied northern third to meet Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.
Adding to growing fears of a military conflict, Turkey may establish a naval base on the northern third of Cyprus it has occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion, with Turkish ships already drilling for energy off the coast.
A group of Turkish military analysts is looking for a location, the pro-government Milliyet daily newspaper reported, for the base after using Geçitkale Airport as a base for Turkey’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) operating in Eastern Mediterranean.
The area said to be under consideration is around Famagusta, about 35-40 kilometers (21.8-24.9 miles) from İskele Strait, the report said, with plans to build a military facility but not to store ammunition.
Turkey is protecting its energy ships operating in part of Cyprus’ EEZ with submarines, drones, armed drones and fighter jets, ignoring demands from the legitimate government, Greece and the United States to stop and soft European Union sanctions which haven’t worked.
A naval base on the island is also expected to boost the rapid deployment force of the vessels and speed up their maintenance, repair and supply support while allowing long-term deployment of naval and air elements, the paper said.
Erdoğan said in September 2018 that Turkey might establish a naval base on the island if necessary and the move comes as tension rises over the drilling in the EEZ even though Turkey wants to join the European Union to which Cyprus belongs, but refusing to recognize the government and barring Cypriot ships and planes.
With Turkish drillships hunting for oil and gas in waters off the island, Cyprus sent to the European Council for Foreign Affairs a list of Turkish nationals, asking they be sanctioned, although the European Union has been reluctant to get tough.
The names include CEO Melih Han Bilgin, Vice Presidents Edip Müyesseroğlu and Mehmet Ferruh Akalın, and board member Alparslan Bayraktar, according to the Cyprus Mail although the Cypriot government hasn’t enforced EU arrest warrants for crews of the ships.
But the sanctions list doesn’t include Erdogan nor any politicians after the EU imposed only soft sanctions over the drilling, fearful that he would flood the bloc with millions more refugees and migrants through Greek islands.
Bayraktar currently holds the office of Deputy Minister of Energy and it wasn’t explained whether he would face sanctions if granted by the EU, which is being asked to stop up actions over the drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ.
Possible EU sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes, while also banning citizens of member states and companies in the EU from providing funds to sanctioned individuals or entities, with a decision expected in January.
Earlier sanctions included included a freeze on Turkey’s pre-accession funding in hopes of joining the EU, a 14-year stalled odyssey so far, and the suspension of negotiations on an aviation agreement.
Erdogan ignored those and went ahead and signed a deal with Libya dividing the seas between them and said drilling would go on, although that has undermined any hopes of resuming reunification talks.
The last round collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they would never remove a 35,000-strong standing army on the northern third occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion and demanded the right of further military intervention.