Nicosia on Monday was still waiting for an official response from Washington regarding the supposed involvement of a US warship in a naval exercise announced by Turkey in a section of the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“We await their [US] official explanations before the government can take a position,” director of the president’s office Michalis Sofocleous told the state broadcaster.
Sofocleous said Nicosia issued demarches to the US ambassador to Cyprus as well as to the US State Department.
“Their officials have yet to clear up the situation. Unless and until we have a clear picture, we cannot go about hurling accusations,” he added.
On Friday, Turkish authorities issued a Navtex – or navigational warning – advising mariners of the presence of a US warship in a reserved area covering parts of blocks 5 and 6 of Cyprus’ EEZ, to the southwest of Paphos and in international waters.
The northern segment of Cyprus’ block 6 falls within what Turkey claims is part of its continental shelf.
According to the Turkish advisory (Navtex 746/17), the US warship would be towing an underwater device from 15:00 to 20:59 (UTC) on Monday, July 31.
News of the Navtex over the weekend led to runaway speculation here by some media outlets as to whether the US was engaging in a provocative act toward Cyprus, given that Washington had failed to notify Cypriot authorities per the protocol.
Asked about this, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said he had spoken with US ambassador in Cyprus, Kathleen Ann Doherty, who said she was unaware of the alleged US naval activity.
Initial reports suggested the Americans themselves were stumped about the reported involvement of a US warship in this particular Navtex.
Citing Cypriot government sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, Sigmalive reported that Washington did not request from Ankara to reserve the area in question for a US warship to operate in.
Sigmalive said that Cypriot ambassador in Washington Leonidas Pantelides was making queries with the US State Department. US officials reportedly told Pantelides they were unaware of any such activity, but referred him to the Pentagon for more details.
Earlier, government sources told the media outlet that it was likely the activities cited in the Navtex might be a joint US-Turkey exercise, possibly under the umbrella of Nato.
A similar occurrence, where the US was “dragged” into air force exercises conducted by Turkey in Cypriot airspace, had taken place in the past, the same sources said.
They suggested Turkey could merely be playing a diplomatic PR game at Cyprus’ expense.
There was no way the US government would have taken part in such activities without notifying Nicosia through the proper channels, the sources added.
But glomming onto the speculation, political parties here demanded that the government clear up the situation.
In a statement, Akel said the possibility of the United States sending a warship to a contested part of the EEZ without advising Cyprus could mean that Washington “is taking a stance in a dispute between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey”.
“We would like to believe that this is not the case,” the statement added.
Earlier this month, Turkey had issued a marine advisory by which it reserved for seismic surveys an area including parts of blocks 1, 6 and 7 of Cyprus’ EEZ, to the west and southwest of the island.
The move came just as a drillship arrived in Cypriot economic waters to carry out natural gas exploration in offshore block 11, licensed to a consortium comprising France’s Total and Italy’s ENI.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan warned the energy companies, and indirectly the two capitals, not to proceed with the drilling, as they would risk “losing a friend”.
Italian Minister of Defence Roberta Pinotti was meanwhile on Monday paying an official visit to Cyprus.
She first held talks with her Cypriot counterpart Christoforos Fokaides, after which the two governments signed a bilateral agreement for the sharing of confidential information.
Pinotti was later received by President Nicos Anastasiades.
Media in Athens and Nicosia commented that the visit of the Italian politician was ‘symbolic’ as Rome wanted to send a message to Ankara regarding the gas drilling activities in the region.
Pinotti said that she discussed energy issues and energy security at sea with Fokaides.
“The Italian company ENI is currently working and I think we will have a positive development for the whole of Europe. We have to work on security and tackle problems and difficulties. To work for a prosperous future for a Europe with a flourishing economy,” Pinotti said.
French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly also visited the island on July 17.