With Turkey planning to up the number of ships drilling for energy in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to four – disregarding European Union soft sanctions – the US State Department again said it should stop, with no indication it would.
The US has repeatedly backed the right of the legitimate Cypriot government on the island where Turkey has occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion to license foreign companies, including America’s ExxonMobil, to hunt for oil and gas.
But Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus nor parts of the EEZ and has sent ships into areas it claims, as the US again called for an end to any “unlawful activities” in Cyprus’ territorial sea and for Turkey to remove its drillships, which are being guarded by warships.
Turkey has already established a presence in the region with its Yavuz and Fatih drillships and the Barbaros research vessel and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that a fourth Turkish ship, the Oruc Reis research vessel, is on its way to the region.
“This provocative step raises tensions,” the State Department said responding to questions from Hellas Journal and Cyprus News Agency, adding that only Cyprus, acting through its government, can consent to activities such as drilling within its territorial sea, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ignored all calls to stop.
Turkey on Aug. 16 a series of navigational advisories, NAVTEX, reserving areas for naval exercises using live fire off Cyprus where the Fatih is conducting drilling operations, telling other vessels to steer clear.
Defense officials and diplomats in Greece and Cyprus were standing by, said Kathimerini, trying to gauge what Erdogan would do, especially with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci set to meet at the United Nations General Assembly annual opening in September in New York.
Talks between them to attempt to reunify the island after 45 years of division collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Akinci and Erdogan said they would never remove their 35,000-strong standing army and wanted the right of military intervention again.
The Barbaros recently completed its mission south of Cyprus and moved northward to the Turkish port of Mersin with worries that means a drillship will now be sent to the area with Cyprus having no way to stop it and no military match for Turkey.
The Fatih is to remain west of Cyprus until Sept. 3 while the mission of the Yavuz, east of the island, is to end on Sept. 30, after Akinci and Anastasiades are set to meet on the sidelines of the UN opening, and as American diplomat Jane Holl Lute is trying to get the two sides together again for more negotiations, all of which have failed for decades.
Cyprus’ government is said to be anxious that Turkey will deliberately increase tensions by sending a drillship to the island’s south, to Block 1 which has yet to be licensed as no one has been able to stop Erdogan yet and the EU reluctant to take tougher action, fearful he will unleash more refugees and migrants on Greek islands who had gone to Turkey first, fleeing war and strife in the Middle East and economic conditions in a number of other countries too.