Egypt has joined Greece and Cyprus in calling for Turkey to stop exploration work for gas deposits in disputed waters off the Cypriot coast. Turkey’s decision to send a research vessel into the area has already resulted in the suspension of peace talks between Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus and an increase in tensions around the island.
The foreign ministers of the three countries said in a joint statement on October 29 that Turkey should stop research work in parts of the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Cyprus.
“The ministers deplored the recent illegal actions perpetrated within Cyprus’s EEZ, as well as the unauthorised seismic operations being conducted therein,” the statement said.
They called on Turkey “to cease all seismic survey operations underway within the maritime zones of Cyprus and refrain from similar activity in the future”, warning that “any unilateral actions further undermine the stability and security of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East area”.
The Cypriot government claimed on October 20 that a Turkish research vessel and two naval ships had entered an area of the eastern Mediterranean that is claimed by both Turkish and Greek Cyprus, in breach of international maritime law.
Cyprus was partitioned in 1974 when Turkish forces invaded the island after a coup backed by Greece’s military government. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus declared independence in 1983 but Turkey is the only country to recognise Turkish Cyprus and it keeps a strong military presence on the northern part of the island.
The Cypriot government wants to block Turkey’s EU accession process and prevent any new accession chapters being opened until the issue has been resolved. EU leaders also criticised Turkey for its actions at a summit on October 23 and 24.
In 2011, US oil and gas company Noble Energy discovered the Aphrodite field in deep water off southern Cyprus. The field is part of the Levant Basin, off the coasts of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria, part of which belongs to Cyprus. After the collapse of its banking sector and an international bailout in 2013, Cyprus has been increasingly keen to develop its offshore resources.
Egypt, whose relationship with Turkey has worsened recently, hopes to secure gas supplies from Cyprus. BG Egypt has been in talks with Cypriot officials over potential exports in future, after falling production and rising demand in Egypt turned the country from gas exporter to importer. On October 29, the Egyptian government also said it would not renew a three-year transit-trade agreement with Turkey signed under former President Mohamed Morsi.
The incursions by Turkish vessels into disputed waters have worsened relations between Greek and Turkish Cyprus, which restarted peace talks in February after a two-year hiatus. Talks have now been suspended, Cyprus’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Ioannis Kasoulides said on October 20, blaming “Turkish actions, which ... violate in the most provocative way the sovereign rights of Cyprus”.
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