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US, Greece, EU Team Up Against Turkish Drilling Off Cyprus

July 10, 2019

ATHENS – The United States joined a call by Greece’s new Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias from the ruling New Democracy in pushing Turkey to stop drilling for energy in Cyprus’ sovereign waters but both were ignored again.

“This provocative step raises tensions in the region. We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint and refrain from actions that increase tensions in the region,” a US State Department spokeswoman said in a statement.

Stepping up from issuing press releases of various levels of concern, the European Union has put on the table to suspend most high-level contacts with Turkey and cut aid to protest Erdogan going ahead with the drilling, after a second Turkish ship was sent into Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ,) said the financial news agency Bloomberg.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry blasted Turkey’s planned drilling inside Cyprus’ EEZ as a violation of international law – which Turkey doesn’t recognize at the same time it claims part of the same waters and drilling rights.

“We condemn Turkey’s attempted illegal drilling within the territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus,” the ministry said.

“We express our full solidarity with the Republic of Cyprus and we call once again on Turkey to immediately cease its illegal activities and to respect the sovereignty and sovereign rights of Cyprus.”

The ministry noted that Turkey’s drilling could harm its 14-year-long bid to join the EU, to which Cyprus already belongs and as Erdogan refuses to recognize the legitimate government there and bars Cypriot ships and planes.

Turkey has occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion and while Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades offered to share potentially lucrative revenues from oil and gas finds with Turkish-Cypriots that wasn’t enough for Erdogan.

The Turkish President and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they want their side to take part in the licensing of foreign companies drilling in the EEZ, where America’s ExxonMobil has already reported a gas find. France’s Total and Italy’s ENI are also there.

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said the government “will safeguard the interests of the country” and develop economic diplomacy.

WHAT TO DO

Options about how to deal with the defiant Erdogan was set to be discussed by EU ministers on July 10 in Brussels as they have been wary in their dealings with him, anxious that he would flood Greek islands with more refugees and migrants.

Turkey has been overrun with people fleeing war and strife in the Middle East and other countries, who were using Greek islands in a bid to get to other more prosperous countries before the EU closed its borders to them and reneged on promises to help take an overload from Greece, which has 70,000 in detention centers, most seeking asylum.

One measure could limit the European Investment Bank’s sovereign-backed lending in Turkey and confirm a cut of some 146 million euros ($163 million) in aid for next year, it was reported.

Other options from the European Commission also include suspending all ministerial and leaders’ meetings, as well as ongoing talks on an aviation agreement and other countries would advised to break off high-level talks with Turkey.

That could impede on the New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis dealing with Erdogan, who was the first to call and congratulate him after the Conservative chief won the July 7 snap elections, ousting the Radical Left SYRIZA.

EU leaders sided with Cyprus in the dispute, declaring last month that they were ready to consider sanctions if Turkey continues drilling, including targeting companies, individuals, and Turkey’s deep-sea hydrocarbon exploration and production sectors among the options.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the “violation of Cyprus’s sovereignty” undermines efforts to resolve the island’s decades-old problem and France’s Foreign Ministry reaffirmed “its solidarity with Cyprus, whose sovereignty must be respected.”

“We call on Turkey to avoid any action that would be unlawful and could jeopardize regional stability,” it said. Egypt jumped in too and “stressed the importance of non-escalation and commitment to respecting and implementing international law.”

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