Nicosia.- The government of Cyprus is working and acts in different directions to counteract Turkey’s threats against Cyprus and its sovereign right to explore and exploit any hydrocarbon reserves in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This was underlined Friday by Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou, who added that every country, especially Turkey, should abide by international law and act accordingly.
The government of Cyprus, he added, ”is working and acts in different directions as regards Turkey’s threats and the tension it attempts to create while Cyprus exercises its sovereign rights for the exploitation of its natural resources”.
Houston-based company, Noble Energy, is expected to begin drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ in late September. The company has a concession to look for hydrocarbons in an offshore field in Cyprus’ EEZ, south-east of Cyprus, known as Block 12.
Turkey has raised tension in the area, combining its spat with Israel over the death of nine Turkish activists killed in international waters last year with Cypriot and Israeli plans to explore for oil and gas in their respective EEZ’s. Exploratory drilling is due to begin within weeks.
Turkey said it plans to beef up navy patrols in the region and secure free navigation of the seas, but it is believed that it really wants to build up a naval presence between Cyprus and Israel to scare investors away from the gas fields there.
Turkey has been irked by Cypriot-Israeli energy deals, and the tensions with Israel could enable Ankara to send a message without making explicit threats.
“Turkey’s emphasis on freedom of navigation is also connected to the assessment that in the eastern Mediterranean there are natural gas deposits beyond what have already been discovered,” Gallia Lindenstrauss of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told Reuters.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor responded Friday to Mr. Erdogan’s recent threats, saying they were “grave and serious.” He told Army Radio, however, that he did not want to get into verbal saber-rattling.
In Washington, the State Department urged leaders of both countries to avoid a war of words. “We would like to see both sides cool it and get back to a place where they can have a productive relationship,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
Free Gaza Movement activists, who have organized a series of flotillas to challenge Israel’s blockade of the Palestinian coastal strip, said they had no announcement about any efforts to come, but that the most recent, which was stopped by Greece and Cyprus in June, would not be the last.
But Israeli diplomats and experts in Jerusalem and abroad said that while they were not overly concerned about a flotilla to Gaza materializing soon, the naval threat regarding the gas fields could prove more dangerous.
“Israel and Cyprus reached agreement dividing the water between the two of them for gas drilling,” said Alon Liel, a former ambassador to Turkey. “Turkey said the division was illegal. Israel is also clashing with Lebanon on demarcation and drilling rights. Turkey will also support Lebanon, and things could escalate.”
Mr. Liel said Israel hoped to export its gas via Cyprus in a few years, and that would require digging a large port there — a project he imagined Turkey would try to prevent. That could mean possible clashes between Israel and Turkey such as those Turkey has had with Greece over drilling and demarcation.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has ordered a series of studies on how to defend Israelis from being prosecuted by the Turks over the flotilla attack last year — including urging Israelis associated with the military to avoid flying there — and retaliate against Turkey for its growing anti-Israel stand. Officials who spoke of the studies said they were still in the realm of brainstorming, and were far from being accepted as government policy. They included getting closer to Armenia, Turkey’s historic rival, and eastern Turkey’s minority Kurds, who along with Kurds in neighboring countries hope for an independent state.
Some analysts said Turkey’s rejection of the U.N. report showed hypocrisy. Before the commission issued its account, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu asserted in a local television interview that the report would “reaffirm the supremacy of international law.” After it was issued, Turkish officials declared the report null and void.
Mr. Erdogan’s comments come before a planned trip to Egypt and a meeting with President Barack Obama the week after. Lehigh University international relations professor Henri Barkey said Mr. Erdogan was trying to force the United States into the uncomfortable position of choosing between its close ally Israel and Turkey, a NATO-member nation.
Turkey announced last week that it would host a NATO missile defense shield to protect against a potential strike from Iran. If tensions between Israel and Turkey increase, that could put NATO in a delicate spot.
Several Security Council members during a briefing of the Council by UNSG’s Special Advisor Alexander Downer via teleconference, referred to Turkey’s threats regarding explorations for hydrocarbons in plot 12 of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.
The German representative said it was the sovereign right of every member state to delineate its exclusive economic zone and carry out explorations within the zone, while the British representative said Cyprus’ explorations were in line with international law but supported that statements should be made to reassure Turkey.
President Demetris Christofias called for “vigilance and readiness” by the National Guard vis-a-vis “Turkish arrogance” and the threats by Ankara, aiming to intimidate Cyprus in order to abandon exploitation of hydrocarbon reserves in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Speaking at the Presidential Palace this morning, during the ceremony of affirmation of the new Deputy Chief of the National Guard, Major General Andreas Petrides, the President said that Petrides assumes his duties during a very difficult time, while the Turkish occupation of a significant part of Cyprus still continues.
“Turkish arrogance and the treats that are being made, in an effort to intimidate the Republic of Cyprus, aiming at dissuading the country from exploiting its EEZ, call for vigilance and readiness”, President Christofias said.
He noted that the armed forces are called to deliver their top mission, which is to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the semi-occupied country, as well as the people’s freedom and dignity.
“Times are difficult, but states and societies are being tested during tough times” the President said.
Greek government vice-president Theodoros Pangalos sternly warned Turkey on Friday that Greece will back the Republic of Cyprus and that any attack or military action against it will be considered an attack or military action against Greece itself, while he also called for an informal meeting of all the political parties to discuss the developments in Thrace and how they can be dealt with.
“Cyprus is an independent member country of the UN and has the right to independently determine its interests alone or in cooperation with other countries,” Pangalos stressed, referring to Turkish threats over explorations in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Responding in parliament to a current question tabled by Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis, who spoke of “continuing Turkish provocations and dangerous attempts to penetrate Thrace through its consulate there and called on the government to take steps to avoid the consolidation of a policy that could give rise to “irreparable harm” to Greece, Pangalos said it was a “big mistake” that the establishment of the (Turkish) consulate was allowed in Komotini, and agreed with Karatzaferis that Ankara was using the consulate for propagandistic purposes.
Karatzaferis warned about the role played by the Turkish consulate in Komotini, charging escalating attempts “turkify” Thrace. “A huge problem exists, and the issue is whether we will admit it or sweep it under the carpet,” he said.
The European Union has called on Turkey to refrain from threats against the Republic of Cyprus with regard to its oil and natural gas exploration plans.
”The EU urges Turkey to refrain from any kind of threats, sources of friction that could negatively affect good neighbourly relations and the peaceful settlement of border disputes,” a Spokeswoman for the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has told reporters in Brussels.
According to the Reuters News Agency, Maja Kocijancic said Turkey should work towards a comprehensive solution for the Cyprus problem.
Recently senior Turkish government officials have warned that Ankara will not hesitate to deploy warships in the Mediterranean, if the Republic of Cyprus enters Turkish territorial waters during oil exploration efforts in the Mediterranean.
The Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D Group) calls on Turkey to respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus and to avoid any threats against it in relation to oil exploration within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
A press release of Cypriot MEP Kyriakos Mavronikolas states that an S&P Group’s announcement “invites Turkey to abstain from any threats and source of tension which could negatively affect the climate in the Cyprus talks and the good neighborly relations”.
S&P Group’s President Martin Schulz calls on Turkey “to respect all the sovereign rights of EU member states, including Cyprus”.