European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that illegal Turkish drilling for gas off divided Cyprus “must stop,” during his two-day visit to help deescalate tensions in the region.
“Turkish illegal drillings must stop,” Borrell tweeted after meeting Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.
The EU’s top diplomat said he had discussed with Christodoulides how to “bolster regional stability” and wind down tensions created by Turkey.
“Delimitation of exclusive economic zones contested by Turkey must be done in full respect of international law and good faith, as proposed by Cyprus,” he added.
Borrell said the 27-member bloc supports Cyprus’ call for Turkey to negotiate a maritime border agreement and will facilitate these efforts to buttress regional stability.
“We welcome the invitation by the Government of Cyprus to Turkey to negotiate in good faith the maritime delimitation between their relevant coasts,” Borrell said.
“Regional stability is a priority of the European Union.”
Cyprus accuses Ankara of creating instability in the region by escalating tensions over its drilling activity inside its designated exclusive economic zone.
Turkey has re-entered Cyprus’ EEZ to drill in block six already licensed by Nicosia to energy majors Italy’s Eni and France Total.
“Turkey has opted to proceed with its sixth illegal drilling in less than a year, violating the sovereign rights of Cyprus, and further destabilizing the region,” said Christodoulides after meeting Borrell on Thursday.
Last year, ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum made the biggest gas find off Cyprus so far, discovering a field holding an estimated five to eight trillion cubic feet.
EU member state Cyprus in January accused Ankara of “piracy” due to its repeated drilling activity inside the island’s designated exclusive economic zone.
Christodoulides argued Turkey stands out in the region, as a “lone spoiler” seeking to “undermine” regional cooperation, stability, and security.
“We see this also in Libya, Syria, Iraq.”
“Turkey’s actions in Cyprus’s maritime zones cannot be seen in isolation… they form part of an alarming behaviour.”
Borrell arrived in Cyprus from Greece, with Athens itself having recently raised concerns about Turkey’s approach to disputed maritime boundaries.
Turkey opposes unilateral exploration by the Republic of Cyprus and says Turkish Cypriots have rights to a share of the island’s offshore resources.
It has also insisted that the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ — recognized only by Ankara — itself has the right to explore around the entire island.
UN-backed talks on reunifying the island as a bizonal, bi-communal federation collapsed in July 2017 and have not resumed, in part because of the deep divisions over the offshore gas reserves.
Deputy government spokesman Panayiotis Sentonas said Borrell told President Nicos Anastasiades that the EU would “continue to send clear messages to Ankara to respect international law” and that the bloc would “exert pressure on Turkey to immediately ends its violations.”
Borrell repeated that the EU fully supports Cyprus’ sovereign rights and has taken concrete action to back this up.
Brussels has imposed sanctions on top Turkish petroleum company officials over drilling in Cyprus waters.
The EU official praised Cyprus for trying to avoid an escalation “that could be damaging for all of us” and said maritime border negotiations should be in line with international law and good neighbourly relations.
“That’s why the European Union was invented to foster good neighbour relations and to find solutions through dialogue and negotiations.”