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Cyprus

Drilling row deepens, all eyes on Brussels council meeting (Update 4)

The European Commission will propose political and economic measures against Turkey for its actions in the Cyprus EEZ, a foreign ministry announcement said on Tuesday, as Turkey announced it was stepping up offshore drilling around the island.

The General Affairs Council, convening on Tuesday in Luxemburg, invited the EC and the Europe-an External Action Service (EEAS) to submit “options for appropriate measures” against Turkey “without delay” due to the country’s refusal to conform with international law and EU calls for restraint with regard to its drilling activities.

The proposals are expected to be tabled during Friday’s European Council summit, where developments in the eastern Mediterranean and Turkey’s actions are on the agenda.

President Nicos Anastasiades greeted what he called a positive development, but doubted whether it would have an impact on Turkish behaviour, which he said is “out of control.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Anastasiades said he was ‘optimistic’ the European Union would take a strong stance regarding Turkey’s violations of the island’s sovereignty.

The president was alluding to the upcoming European Council summit later this week, where Cyprus hopes to extract a tangible show of support from the bloc against Turkey’s ongoing violation of the island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“What I can tell you is that this is our objective, and I believe that the Mediterranean EU member states summit signals a more robust stance by the EU,” Anastasiades told reporters.

In Luxemburg, the Council said Turkey continued to move away from the European Union and “recalling its conclusions of 26 June 2018, the Council notes that Turkey’s accession negotiations have therefore effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing and no further work to-wards the modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union is foreseen”.

It said it continues to expect Turkey to “unequivocally commit to good neighbourly relations, international agreements and to the peaceful settlement of disputes, having recourse, if necessary, to the International Court of Justice”.

Over the weekend Greece convened its Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence (Kysea), the supreme decision-making body on issues of foreign policy and national defence.

Addressing the nation later, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Greece and Cyprus will push their EU partners to penalise Turkey, including the possible option of sanctions, if Ankara is verified to have started drilling for gas west of Cyprus.

“We have agreed to prepare the ground in the coming week that the (European Union) summit take the relevant decisions, even sanctions against Turkey, if it is verified that there has been a drill (by Turkey) in the Cypriot EEZ,” said Tsipras who also spoke with EU Council President Donald Tusk on Tuesday.

Anastasiades said he was briefed on what was discussed at the Kysea meeting.

“I have been briefed, and we are acting in concert [with Greece] on the steps that will be taken and are being taken.”

He added: “That said, there is no cause for panic.”

On whether Nicosia might veto the conclusions of the European Council summit should it find them unsatisfactory, Anastasiades demurred, saying only that the government must be allowed to handle developments as it sees fit.

“It is not with rhetoric similar to that of the Turkish side that you achieve your goals,” he noted.

Responding to a reporter’s comment that the breakaway regime is in sync with Turkey on the issue of offshore exploration, Anastasiades remarked: “When were they not?”

Turkey meanwhile claimed that its drillship, the Fatih, has begun drilling and has already reached a depth of 3,000 metres.

In early May the Fatih was despatched to a location 36 nautical miles off Paphos, well inside the notional EEZ of Cyprus.

Turkey, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus, claims that certain areas in Cyprus’ offshore maritime zone fall into the jurisdiction of Turkey or that of Turkish Cypriots. Cyprus says that defining its EEZ is its sovereign right.

Speaking from Japan, where he is attending the G20 summit, Turkey’s energy minister Fatih Donmez said the drillship continues its operations at the site dubbed ‘Finike 1’, having already drilled to a depth of 3,000 metres.

“The goal is to reach 5,000 to 5,500 metres below sea level. We have about 100 to 120 days of work ahead of us. By the end of July we will have reached our target,” Donmez was quoted as saying by state-run Anadolu agency.

He also announced that Turkey’s second drillship, the Yavuz, would set course this week for a location in the eastern Mediterranean, to begin drilling in early July.

“Our second ship is about to be ready. We will send off our drillship Yavuz on Thursday,” he said.

“Those who try to push Turkey out of the energy equation in the eastern Mediterranean are aware that there is no realistic solution without Turkey but they cannot express this,” Donmez added.

The Yavuz will reportedly head for an area off the Karpas peninsula, on the north-eastern tip of the island.

It’s understood that in this case the drillship, contracted by Turkey’s national petroleum corporation, will be operating on behalf of the breakaway regime, which is laying claim to offshore areas to the east and southeast of the island.

Reports meantime said Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan on Monday had a telephone conversation with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The subject of their conversation was not made public.


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