The United States and the European Union have expressed deep concern over Turkey’s plans for offshore drilling operations in an area claimed by Cyprus as its exclusive economic zone, adding to tensions between Ankara and its Western allies, Reuters reported.
The statements at the weekend came after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said “we are starting drilling” in the region.
Turkey and the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government have overlapping claims of jurisdiction for offshore oil and gas research in the eastern Mediterranean, a region thought to be rich in natural gas.
“The United States is deeply concerned by Turkey’s announced intentions to begin offshore drilling operations in an area claimed by the Republic of Cyprus as its Exclusive Economic Zone,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said on Sunday.
“This step is highly provocative and risks raising tensions in the region. We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint,” she said.
Çavuşoğlu said that Turkish seismic research vessel Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa was continuing work in the region.
The Cyprus foreign ministry said it “strongly condemns” Turkey’s drilling operations within its exclusive economic zone.
“This provocative action by Turkey constitutes a flagrant violation of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus,” it said on Saturday.
Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Ankara was defending Cypriot Turks’ rights and would continue to do so as long as it said Greek Cypriots excluded them from decision-making and carried out unilateral hydrocarbon activities.
“The USA making a call to Turkey … is an approach which is neither constructive nor in line with international law,” it said, adding that it was “unacceptable for third parties to literally put themselves in the place of international courts.”
The US statement followed similarly worded comments on Saturday by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who expressed “grave concern” about Turkey’s intentions.
“We urgently call on Turkey to show restraint, respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus in its exclusive economic zone and refrain from any such illegal action to which the European Union will respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus.”
Any escalation between Turkey and the United States could put more pressure on relations already strained on several fronts, including missile defense and military operations in Syria.