With US energy giant ExxonMobil going ahead with drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped up his bellicose rhetoric again, saying he wouldn't tolerate “aggressive policies” from Cyprus he said violate the rights of Turkish-Cypriots.
Speaking from the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Erdogan ramped up the provocations after the American Ambassador to Cyprus, Kathleen Doherty, visited the US company's rig, along with ExxonMobil Vice President Tristan Asprey.
Speaking to the pro-government Daily Sabah that acts as his mouthpiece, he said that, "Turkey will to never allow the usurpation of the rights of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), one of the original owners of hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean," referring to the northern third of the island unlawfully occupied since a 1974 Turkish invasion.
"Turkey is committed to protecting both its own law and the rights and interests of the Turkish Cypriot community. The recent arbitration of our presence in the Eastern Mediterranean is a reflection of our uncompromising attitude at this point. As the Greek Cypriot side continues its aggressive policies that ignore the fundamental rights of the Turkish Cypriot community, we will continue to take the necessary measures," Erdogan added.
"We are contributing to the energy supply security of Europe through projects such as the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline Project (TANAP) and TurkStream on the one hand, while meeting our increasing energy needs in line with our economic growth on the other. In the coming period, we will continue to strive for the transportation of the Caspian energy resources to the Western countries through our country," Erdogan added.
He didn't mention he had sent warships near Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ,) parts of which Turkey doesn't recognize, in a bid to keep foreign energy companies from looking for oil and gas, although Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said he's willing to share any potentially lucrative revenues with the Turkish-Cypriot side.
That wasn't enough for Erdogan or Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, who said they want their side to take part in the licensing process or would start drilling in the same area as well, adding to the growing tension.
Talks to reunify the island fell apart in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Erdogan and Akinci said they would never remove an army in the occupied territory which only Turkey recognizes and as they wanted the right to militarily intervene again when they wanted.
Asprey said the American energy company and its partner, Qatar Petroleum, are going to keep drilling for oil and gas in waters where they are licensed off Cyprus, ignoring Turkish warnings to stop. In an interview with the Cypriot Sigmalive TV channel, he said while the company is fully aware of tensions in the region he said they had to be resolved diplomatically by governments.
He added that plot 10, where Exxon is drilling, is outside the area being disputed by Turkey with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he wouldn’t tolerate foreign energy companies from doing research in the area.
Doherty went to a drilling ship off the coast being operated by ExxonMobil to show support for Cyprus’ right to look for energy in its EEZ. She flew there along with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis and Asprey.
That came as Elizabeth Neumann, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Assistant Secretary for Threat Prevention and Security Policy, finishing a four-day visit to Athens, said her talks would provide an “important basis” for next month’s US-Greece Strategic Dialogue meeting.