Turkey rejects biased remarks on Cyprus, East Med in Southern EU summit

Published 15.06.2019 15:28
L-R Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Spain PM Pedro Sanchez, French President Emmanuel Macron, Malta PM Joseph Muscat, Italian PM Giuseppe Conte, Portugal PM Antonio Costa and Greek PM Alexis Tsipras in Malta, June 14, 2019. AP Photo
(L-R) Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Spain PM Pedro Sanchez, French President Emmanuel Macron, Malta PM Joseph Muscat, Italian PM Giuseppe Conte, Portugal PM Antonio Costa and Greek PM Alexis Tsipras in Malta, June 14, 2019. (AP Photo)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday condemned a joint statement targeting Turkey at a summit of southern European Union states, saying Ankara rejects biased remarks disconnected from reality and against international law.

The European Union should "consider appropriate action" against Turkey if it doesn't stop an "illegal" hydrocarbon drilling bid in waters where the Republic of Cyprus has exclusive economic rights, the leaders of France, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Malta said in a joint declaration issued at the end of the sixth Med7 summit in the Maltese capital La Valletta on Friday.

"Turkey must stop its illegal activities in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus," said French President Emmanuel Macron. "The European Union will not show any weakness on this subject."

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said: "It's important to signal that the EU should take specific measures if Turkey does not stop its infringing behavior. Whoever doesn't respect international law must suffer the consequences."

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey used its guarantor rights to intervene on the island after a far-right Greek Cypriot military coup sponsored by the military junta then in power in Athens sought to unite the island with Greece. The coup followed decadelong inter-ethnic violence and terrorism targeting Turkish Cypriots, who were forced to live in enclaves when Greek Cypriots unilaterally changed the constitution in 1963 and stripped the island's Turks of their political rights.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), established in 1983 on the northern one-third of the island, is only recognized by Turkey and faces a longstanding embargo in commerce, transportation and culture. Meanwhile, the Greek Cypriot Administration enjoys recognition by the international community as the Republic of Cyprus, established in 1960.

"These expressions reflect the Greek Cypriot/Greek duo's national positions that are not compatible with the U.N.'s principles regarding a solution to the Cyprus question and international law. They do not hold any value, provision or influence for us," the ministry statement said, describing the Med7 statement as a new and saddening example of how Greek Cyprus and Greece abuse their EU membership and how some EU countries serve as an instrument to this.

"This situation clearly puts forward once again that the EU and EU countries cannot be impartial and trusted actors in solving of the Cyprus question as well," it added.

Greek Cyprus was admitted to the European Union in 2004, violating the EU's own rules of not allowing candidate countries with border disputes and assurances to Turkey and Turkish Cypriots that the Cypriot accession would not take place until a permanent solution had been reached on the island. The Greek Cypriot accession took place a week after a peace plan backed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was voted down in the South while being approved in the North.

"The countries which signed this statement within the scope of the Cyprus question should remember that not only Cypriot Greeks live on the island but also Cypriot Turks, comprehend that the Cyprus question can only be solved if political equality of Cypriot Turks is provided and their security needs are met, and finally see that the Cyprus question remaining without solution for 56 years shows the Greek party does not want to share the government and welfare," the ministry said, calling the signatories to acknowledge that Cypriot Turks have equal rights over the island's natural resources.

The statement also underlined that supporting the maximalist maritime boundary claims of the Greek Cypriot Administration is in violation of the international law itself since "as we have emphasized before, neither the EU nor a member country of the EU can pass judgements regarding a country's claim of maritime authority boundary and cannot bring validity to these boundaries. Moreover, the Greek Cypriot Administration, usurping the rights of Cypriot Turks which are a founding element of the island with equal rights, is not a normal country."

The statement reminded the international community once again that Turkey is determined to protect both its rights on its own continental shelf and equal rights of Cypriot Turks on the hydrocarbon resources of the island in the Eastern Mediterranean, and is taking and will not hesitate to take necessary steps in that regard.

Following the release of the Med7 statement, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades expressed his "deepest gratitude" for the leaders' expression of solidarity with his country against Turkey's "provocations."

Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot Administration's unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, stating that the exclusive economic zone unilaterally declared by Nicosia violates part of Turkey's shelf, particularly in Blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Saying that unilateral exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the island's natural resources, Turkey has ramped up efforts in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey's first seismic vessel, the Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa, bought from Norway in 2013, has been carrying out exploration in the Mediterranean since April 2017.

Ankara also sent its first drilling vessel, Fatih, to the region. The vessel is currently located some 40 miles west of Paphos in an area within Turkey's continental shelf which is also claimed by Greek Cyprus within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). However, it is not among the areas unilaterally licensed by Nicosia for hydrocarbons.

There are British and Turkish nationals working on the Fatih drillship, in addition to TPAO's cooperation with two American and one Croatian companies with expertise in drilling.

The Greek Cypriot Administration has issued international arrest warrants for the ship's crew and officials from foreign companies assisting in the drilling. A Greek Cypriot government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, told the Associated Press the arrest warrants number in the "double digits" and target officials "in decision-making positions."

Turkey warned this week that it would give the "necessary response" to Greek Cyprus over the arrest warrants.

Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said the Cypriot government won't be drawn into a "publicity-oriented confrontation" with Turkey.

But he claimed on private TV station Sigma on Thursday that some drilling support companies had stopped collaboration with Turkey following actions that he said have been taken by the Greek Cypriot government and "by companies which are lawfully authorized to operate within Cyprus' exclusive economic zone."

ExxonMobil, France's Total and Italy's Eni are among the companies unilaterally licensed by the Greek Cypriot government to search for gas inside their claimed exclusive economic zone.

The gathering in Malta came a week ahead of a full summit of EU leaders, which falls at a time when a number of top jobs in Europe are up for grabs – including new heads of both the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB).

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