Spotlight: Turkey to continue gas search off Cyprus despite int'l warnings

Source: Xinhua| 2019-08-24 23:09:14|Editor: ZX
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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- Turkey vowed to "resolutely" continue to explore hydrocarbon resources off Cyprus in Eastern Mediterranean despite international warnings.

"We are continuing right now the exploration activities and will continue resolutely to do so with the same determination," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday, rebuking warnings from the European Union and the United States to stop its drilling activities.

In a new manifest of determination on Friday, Erdogan said during a public speech that "there will be no turning back and no withdrawing in Eastern Mediterranean. We know our rights."

Turkey is pressing ahead in its conflict with Cyprus, which is also an EU member, over undersea energy reserves, accelerating its efforts by sending warships and exploration vessels into disputed waters.

In the last two months, Turkey dispatched several drilling and exploration ships into the waters around Cyprus, searching for gas discoveries in areas that are also claimed by Cyprus.

The drilling ships have been escorted by a growing flotilla of Turkish naval vessels, submarines, drones, and patrol aircraft. Turkey's attitude prompted a rebuke from the Greek Cypriots as well as the EU, which called Ankara's actions "illegal" and last month levied symbolic financial sanctions on Turkey.

Turkey has been an official candidate country to the European bloc since 2005 but accession talks have been frozen for years.

The discovery of rich gas reserves in Eastern Mediterranean in the last decade has triggered a race to tap the region's underwater resources and sparked tensions between Ankara and Nicosia, as well as between Ankara and the EU and Athens, which is a traditional ally of the Greek Cypriots.

Turkey has also a series of disputes over territorial issues in the Aegean sea with NATO ally Greece. The two countries came to the brink of war in 1996 over mutual claims on inhabited islets.

Political analyst Serkan Demirtas suggested the establishment of a joint mechanism sponsored by the EU and other international organizations to oversee "the rights of the Turkish Cypriots" to prevent the current rift from developing into a future conflict.

"Turkish position is not categorically against the Greek Cypriot-led exploration activities, but insists that all these efforts should be made with the participation of the Turkish Cypriots," he said.

The Turkish Cypriots have offered to set up a joint committee for a fair share of the island's natural resources. However, the proposal was rejected by Greek Cypriots.

Demirtas emphasized that the core of the drilling dispute is the division of Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and the issues of sovereignty over overlapping exploration fields.

Meanwhile, Greek Cypriots are ramping up pressure, now that big oil companies have discovered more and more gas around Cyprus, which found its commercial partners such as Egypt and Israel to try to commercialize the valuable gas reserves.

Earlier this year, Egypt, Israel, Cyprus and others formed a gas forum to jointly develop the infrastructure needed to push forward the energy exploration. The bloc has, however, excluded Turkey, which has not made any gas discoveries in waters of its own yet.

Speaking to Xinhua on condition of anonymity, a Turkish government source close to the matter said that Turkey is closely watching the rapprochement of the forum countries and how they are getting closer at the political and economic levels.

In the past years, Turkey's ties with key Mediterranean nations such as Israel and Egypt have deteriorated over political issues.

"We are adamant to defend our rights and will do everything within the international law and regulations to enforce them," added the source, implying that a short-term solution to the dispute is unlikely.

Meanwhile, observers think that Ankara should try to reconcile with Egypt and Israel in order to break its diplomatic isolation in this region and strengthen its hydrocarbon explorations.

"We want friendly relations with all Mediterranean countries and we want it to be a sea of peace, but we also need to protect our rights," the Turkish official said.