Intense diplomatic activity will continue on Wednesday with a visit to Cyprus by European Council President Charles Michel, ahead of a crucial EU summit later this month focusing on Turkey’s brinkmanship in the eastern Mediterranean, the government said Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters at the presidential palace, assistant government spokesman Panayiotis Sentonas said Michel’s visit follows a series of meetings and contacts held by Nicosia in recent weeks.
He cited the visits to Cyprus by the foreign ministers of Russia and the United States, as well as President Nicos Anastasiades’ contacts with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“It is a time of intense diplomatic movement, necessitated by the challenges we face and in order to properly prepare for the special EU summit on the 24th of the month,” Sentonas said.
Three days after visiting Cyprus, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for maritime disputes in the eastern Mediterranean to be resolved through diplomatic, not military means.
“There are ways to resolve those maritime disputes. The answer isn’t through bullying or intimidation or use of military power, but through the normal mechanisms of the resolution of international disputes, especially those over rights,” Pompeo said during an interview with French radio Inter.
“There’s a process. We’ve urged every nation to reduce the tension, reduce their military footprint, and engage in a way that is diplomatic, not military.”
Hours later Turkey said it had extended the operations of its Yavuz energy drill ship in waters off Cyprus until October 12.
Yavuz will be accompanied by three other Turkish ships, according to a maritime notice that added “all vessels are strongly advised not to enter” the area.
The government said the move proved that Turkey was a destabilising factor in the region.
“It is a development, which proves Turkey’s policy, the policy of destabilisation and disputing the Republic’s sovereignty and sovereign rights,” government spokesman Kyriacos Kousios said.
He add it would be something President Nicos Anastasiades would be raising in his meeting with the European Council chairman.
Kousios said Turkey’s stance towards Cyprus should not be linked with Ankara’s threats towards Greece.
“Cyprus has succeeded in getting a decision and sanctions have been placed against Turkey, obviously not satisfactory, but the sanctions framework has been positive for us. Our position is that further sanctions that hurt Turkey should be put in place.”
On Tuesday, the European Council president held talks in Athens with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, after which the latter said his country is ready to sit down for exploratory talks with Turkey on the delimitation of maritime zones, on the condition that it sees “tangible evidence” of de-escalation from Ankara.
“Turkey has time before and after the [EU] summit to continue with the first encouraging step,” Mitsotakis said, referring to the departure over the weekend of the Turkish seismic survey vessel from the Greek continental shelf.
For his part, Michel said the European Union must adopt a “strict” stance demonstrating its determination that its values and principles are upheld.
“We are also ready to open our arms and show that a positive agenda is possible if there is a common will for these principles to be respected,” he added.
Though welcoming Mitsotakis’ remarks, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara hadn’t taken a step back by withdrawing its ship.
“Turkish opposition claims that we have conceded are not true,” he said. “The ship will be back once it is refueled and maintenance is completed.”
Meanwhile speaking during a debate at the European Union Parliament in Brussels, European Commission foreign policy chief Josep Borrell noted that Turkey’s pulling back its energy research vessel and warships away from the Greek island of Kastellorizo is a positive development.
Borrell said the temporary stand-down would help the bloc’s heads of state “create the urgently needed space to work with the Turkish leadership, to achieve a de-escalation that will allow to pursue lasting solutions to the underlying problems of today’s crisis.”
The EU official said that “the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean requires urgent and collective engagement.
“What has been happening during the summer are unacceptable events. Turkey has to refrain from taking unilateral actions. This is a basic element to allow the dialogue to advance – well, better, to start.”
He added: “The world will go one side or the other, depending on what is going to happen in the next days.
“It is clear that solutions will not come from an increasingly confrontational relationship.”
Also due in Cyprus this week are Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg and France’s Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean–Yves Le Drian.