Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday Cyprus could do nothing to stop Turkey from drilling for natural gas, and if it tried it would get a response like in the past.
Ankara’s top diplomat also said that their drilling activity inside the island’s exclusive economic zone was in response to the Republic’s failure to guarantee the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
“To us, these kinds of threats from the Greek Cypriot administration are meaningless,” the Turkish foreign minister told state TRT Haber television. “They know they cannot take a step against us, and if they dare to do so they will get their response like in the past.”
He said the Republic protested to the EU in a bid to secure decisions against Turkey but it failed “because we made the necessary briefings.”
Stressing that Turkey notified the UN and the EU over its activities in the eastern Mediterranean, Cavusoglu said all steps taken by Turkey are in compliance with international law.
He also highlighted that Turkey, as the country with the longest continental coastline, has legitimate rights and vital interests in the eastern Mediterranean and that it has been fully exercising its sovereign rights over its continental shelf in accordance with international law.
Turkish-flagged drillship Fatih launched offshore drilling operations on May 3 this year in an area located 75 kilometres off the western coast of the island.
The Republic has protested the Turkish actions, saying the drilling was within the island’s exclusive economic zone.
Ankara has consistently contested Cyprus’ natural gas activities in the eastern Mediterranean, claiming that Turkish Cypriots also had rights to the resources in the area.
Cavusoglu said even President Nicos Anastasiades had conceded that Turkish Cypriots had rights but he also told him he could not guarantee them right now but rather once the sale of the gas started.
“Nicos, I told him, if you cannot guarantee them now, then what is the guarantee that you will do so when you start selling?” Cavusoglu said, to which he got no response.
“We are saying it clearly, either you guarantee it or we start drilling with our drillships,” he added.
In a similar vein, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appeared to issue a threat to Cyprus or any other parties attempting to deny his country access to natural gas resources in the eastern Med.
“We are taking all legitimate steps and shall continue doing so. But should some quarters, who do not recognize [international] law, stand in our way, then we too can speak the language they understand,” the Turkish leader told reporters after concluding a tour in China.
Erdogan went on to blast the European Union for “acting insincerely,” and accused Cyprus of using its membership of the bloc to squeeze Turkish Cypriots out.
Responding later in the day, Nicosia said it would not track Turkey in its “rhetoric of tension and confrontation.”
In a written statement, government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou recalled the conclusions of the European Council summit of June 20 which stated that the sovereign rights of Cyprus must be respected.
On Cavugoglu’s claims regarding his private conversation with Anastasiades, the spokesman neither denied nor confirmed such an exchange took place.
“The President of the Republic has never said, and does not say now, that the proportion [of hydrocarbons revenues] due to Turkish Cypriots is not secured.”
At any rate, Prodromou recalled, the two sides had reached “a convergence” at the talks in Crans-Montana in 2017 that the management of natural resources would be the purview of the central government in a reunified state.
After the talks collapsed, the Cypriot parliament adopted a law which provides that under any circumstances more than 50 per cent of hydrocarbons revenues will be retained in a national investment fund – meaning that the Turkish Cypriots’ share of this wealth is guaranteed.
This alone invalidates Cavusoglu’s claim that Turkish Cypriots will be left in the lurch.
The spokesman reiterated that Turkish Cypriots will get a say in the management of the resources as part of a comprehensive solution of the Cyprus problem.
Main opposition Akel said Cavusoglu’s threats were unacceptable and offensive.
“Essentially, the Turkish foreign minister threatened with a new invasion of Cyprus because the Republic exercises its sovereign rights inside its EEZ,” the party said in a written statement.
“Such statements escalate the tension that has already been created by Turkey’s illegal drill inside the EEZ.”
The party said Ankara appeared to have a peculiar understanding of international law, which in such cases recommends negotiations to delineate and joint recourse to an international court if that failed.