Legislation giving short shrift to Turkey's strategic importance in the eastern Mediterranean and its longstanding alliance with Washington has passed a key U.S. Senate hurdle.
Sponsored by Democrat Bob Menendez, the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act says it intends to "update the United States' strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean to meet new challenges and opportunities."
But in championing the legislation, which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Menendez said, "Israel, Greece, and [Greek] Cyprus are key partners of the United States," forgetting and ignoring the U.S.' over six-decade-long strategic alliance with Turkey in NATO.
The legislation would pave the way for the U.S. to "fully support the trilateral partnership of Israel, Greece, and [Greek] Cyprus through energy and defense cooperation initiatives —including by lifting the prohibition on arms transfers to the Republic of [Greek] Cyprus," said Menendez's statement.
The controversial legislation, which spurns Turkey's sovereign rights to resources in the region, could further escalate tension between Washington and Ankara at a time when Turkish officials have already said they will not allow unilateral and arbitrary activities in its region.
Turkey says its hydrocarbon drilling activities, a source of recent tension in the Eastern Mediterranean, are based on its legitimate rights stemming from international law.
Turkish drilling vessel, Fatih, is currently located some 64 kilometers (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. Turkey's second drilling ship will start drilling off the Karpas Peninsula to the northeast of the island of Cyprus in July.
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.
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.