Tuesday, September 20, 2011

EU tells Ankara (Turkey) to back off

2011-09-12 18:56:34
By Stefanos Evripidou Published on September 9, 2011 Cyprus Mail

THE EUROPEAN Commission yesterday issued its strongest rebuke yet to Turkey over its threatening behaviour towards Cyprus’ efforts to drill for hydrocarbon reserves within its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Unfazed, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continued to raise the stakes in his row with Israel and Cyprus over hydrocarbon explorations in the eastern Mediterranean, vowing yesterday to stop them from exploiting natural resources in the area while also pledging to send warships to escort aid to Gaza. The EU, through Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule yesterday “urged Turkey to refrain from any kind of threat, sources of friction or action, which could negatively affect good neighbourly relations and the peaceful settlement of border disputes”.

In a released statement, Fule said, “The Commission regrets any statements that are not conducive to this objective,” noting that it “regularly reiterates these issues in its discussions with Turkey and will continue to monitor Turkey’s commitments to good neighbourly relations in the light of the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes”.

The Commission further highlighted the importance of progress in the normalisation of relations between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus. The EU also “stressed all the sovereign rights of EU member states which include entering into bilateral agreements, in accordance with the EU acquis and international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea”.

The Commission underlined the “urgent need” to reach a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue.

“Ahead of the crucial phase of Cyprus talks this autumn, it is essential that all parties concerned exert restrain and do their utmost to ensure a positive climate that will facilitate a successful completion of the process,” said the statement released by Fule’s office.

Tensions in the eastern Mediterranean are growing by the day as top Turkish officials continue to make cutting comments on Turkey’s plans to beef up navy patrols in the region and secure free navigation of the seas, following its spat with Israel over nine activists killed in international waters last year. Apart from Turkish demands for an Israeli apology, compensation for the families of the dead and free passage to Gaza, the combative tone of the Turkish leadership is also viewed by some analysts as a response to Israel and Cyprus’ plans to explore for oil and gas in their respective EEZs.

According to Reuters, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went a step further yesterday in an interview with Al Jazeera saying Turkish warships will escort any Turkish aid vessels to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, preventing Israel from attacking them again. Erdogan also said that Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources from the eastern Mediterranean. “Turkish warships, in the first place, are authorised to protect our ships that carry humanitarian aid to Gaza,” Erdogan said in the interview, broadcast by Al Jazeera with an Arabic translation.

“You know that Israel has begun to declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the Mediterranean,” Erdogan said, apparently in reference to Israeli plans to exploit offshore gas reserves found in areas that are also claimed by Lebanon. “You will see that it will not be the owner of this right, because Turkey, as a guarantor of the Turkish republic of north Cyprus, has taken steps in the area, and it will be decisive and holding fast to the right to monitor international waters in the east Mediterranean,” he warned. Deploying warships to escort aid vessels to Gaza and direct interference in the exploitation of Israel and Cyprus’ natural resources are the boldest statements yet to come from the outspoken Turkish leader.

Former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat was quoted in Turkish Cypriot press yesterday criticising President Demetris Christofias for being “insanely brave” in daring to explore the island’s natural resources before a Cyprus solution. Defence Minister Demetris Eliades yesterday condemned Erdogan’s statements, noting that Turkey has reached the point of issuing direct threats to numerous countries.

“Turkey with its overt threats against Cyprus is exposed in the eyes of the international community,” said Eliades. Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said yesterday: “Turkey needs to get the message that all states should act within the framework of international law because this safeguards peace and good relations between neighbouring states. Unfortunately Turkey opts to provoke and opts for tension.”

In an interview with Voice of America, Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou Marcoullis questioned how Turkey planned to disrupt drilling, undertaken by Houston-based Noble Energy, which is due to start by month’s end. “I would like to hear from Turkish officials what exactly they plan to do? Do they plan to attack Noble Energy’s equipment when they start the drilling, because it is not the Republic of Cyprus that is doing the drilling?” Marcoullis called on Turkey to act like a European country and conduct its foreign policy based on the UN Charter and European principles and laws.

Head of the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KEVE) Manthos Mavromatis yesterday said the American company was ready to begin drilling despite the threat. Noble presented its plans at a closed gathering on Wednesday organised by KEVE and the Cyprus-American Business Association, in the presence of US Embassy officials.

According to Mavromatis, Noble plans to move the oil rig to Block 12 for drilling after September 20.

He noted that Noble is taking into consideration the threats but is proceeding normally, in coordination with the US State Department and Embassy here.