Turkey will exercise its rights under international law and international maritime law until the very end in the Eastern Mediterranean, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Saturday, reiterating the country's determination to protect its sovereign rights.
The president’s remarks came after some regional states had adverse reactions over a maritime agreement Turkey struck up with Libya, which secures Ankara’s rights over a portion of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Speaking at the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) consultation meeting of provincial heads at the Haliç Congress Center in Istanbul, Erdoğan said Turkey's maritime boundary delimitation agreement with Libya was sent to the United Nations.
He also confirmed that the deal has already been signed and officially went into effect after it was ratified by Parliament and published in Saturday's Official Gazette.
According to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, while a country is able to stretch its territorial waters only 12 nautical miles out to sea, when it comes to the exclusive economic zone, where it has the rights to fishing, mining and drilling, the area can extend for an additional 200 miles. However, if the maritime distance between the two countries is less than 424 miles, a bilateral deal is needed to determine a mutually agreed-upon dividing line for their respective exclusive economic zones. Turkey has the longest shoreline in the Eastern Mediterranean, making it a natural candidate for seeking reserves in the region in accordance with international law. The presence of the Turkish Cypriot government in Northern Cyprus also strengthens Turkey's hand as the country defends the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the region and insists that their consent is needed for any type of drilling activities.
“Turkey will exercise its rights under international law and international maritime law until the end when it comes to the Eastern Mediterranean,” Erdoğan emphasized in his speech.
On Nov. 27, Turkey and Libya's Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) signed the bilateral memorandum after a meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and GNA head Fayez Al Sarraj took place in Istanbul.
The deal enables Turkey to secure its rights in the Mediterranean while preventing any fait accompli maneuvers by other regional states.
The memorandum asserts Turkey's rights in the Eastern Mediterranean in the face of unilateral drilling attempts by the Greek Cypriot administration, clarifying that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) also has rights to resources in the area. Fellow regional actor, Greece, did not welcome the deal and even regarded it as a violation of its own rights, despite international law deeming otherwise.
Referring to the deal as a "provocation," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated that Ankara's move "will not produce internationally legal results."
Mitsotakis further claimed that it "cannot challenge the sovereign rights of our islands."
Athens later said it would expel its Libyan envoy Mohamed Younis AB Menfi from the country in response.
Shortly after, Erdoğan condemned Greece’s decision to expel the Libyan envoy, calling it “a scandalous decision.”
Turkey has called on countries in the region to work collectively regarding the distribution of hydrocarbon reserves, which have an estimated value of hundreds of billions of dollars and the potential to boost bilateral ties between neighboring countries.
However, Ankara's calls have fallen on deaf ears so far and some countries attempted to isolate Turkey from the energy equation. Turkey continues drilling activities in the Mediterranean region under naval protection.
Libya has remained dogged by turmoil since 2011 when a NATO-backed uprising led to the ousting from office and death of former president Moammar Gadhafi after more than four decades in power. Since then, Libya's stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of power, one in Tobruk and another in Tripoli, as well as in-fighting by a host of heavily-armed militia groups. The military, pushed by Khalifa Haftar's army, has allied with a parallel eastern administration based in Benghazi, marking a dangerous escalation in a power struggle that has dragged on since the vacuum following Gadhafi's death emerged. Haftar is not recognized by the international community, as the elected parliament of the country is centered in Tripoli.
Turkey had no choice but to send ships in East Med
Another statement about the issue came from Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Turkey does not want to come into conflict with anyone but needs to take necessary precautions to ensure the security of its maritime traffic, Çavuşoğlu said in reference to the Eastern Mediterranean agreement recently signed with Libya.
Visiting Rome on the sidelines of the MED 2019: Mediterranean Dialogue conference, the foreign minister told Italian journalists that Turkey is the guarantor of the TRNC and has tried all means to reach a solution with Greece on the Eastern Mediterranean.
“The Greek side does not want a solution,” Çavuşoğlu said, adding that Turkey has been suggesting to the Greek Cypriots, Greek authorities, the European Union and the United Nations to avoid unilateral activities regarding gas exploration activities in the region and the distribution of the revenue by the commission.
“We had to send our ships after seeing they did not want to cooperate,” Çavuşoğlu said.
According to the Foreign Ministry, the agreement complies with international law, including the relevant articles pertaining to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The two NATO allies, Turkey and Greece, have disputes over the rights to deep-sea energy resources, among others, arising from decades of regional rivalry.
Turkey, as a guarantor nation for the TRNC, is currently carrying out hydrocarbon exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean with two drilling vessels, the Fatih and the Yavuz, along with its seismic vessels Oruç Reis and Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa, in the same region.
Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration's unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the TRNC also has rights to the resources in the area.
In 1974, following a coup aiming at Cyprus' annexation by Greece, Ankara had to intervene as a guarantor power. In 1983, the TRNC was founded on the northern third of the island, is only recognized by Turkey and faces a longstanding embargo in commerce, transportation and culture.
On the other hand, the Greek Cypriot administration enjoys recognition by the international community as the Republic of Cyprus, established in 1960, and is a member of the EU.
The decades since have seen several attempts to resolve the Cyprus dispute, all failing. The latest one, held with the participation of the guarantor countries – Turkey, Greece, and the U.K. – came to an end without any progress in 2017 in Switzerland.
Libya determined for agreement
Meanwhile, Libya reiterated its determination for the maritime agreement with Turkey to go into effect.
Speaking at a press conference in Tripoli, the speaker of the Tripoli-based House of Representatives (HoR), Sadiq Al-Kahili said on Saturday, "The deal signed between Libya and Turkey does not constitute any violation of international law or the United Nations Convention on the law of the sea."
He also stressed that it consolidates sovereign economic rights guaranteed by international law and is not directed against any neighboring or regional countries.
He called on all concerned countries to give precedence to dialogue and to have recourse to international law for settling this issue, underscoring that these pressures and auctions will not deter him from endorsing all that enhances Libya's stability and its rights stipulated by law.