Turkey’s view on gas exploration off Cyprus a minority one - U.S. Asst. Secretary of State

Turkey’s view on the gas exploration and drilling efforts off Cyprus is a minority one, and the United States would not take a friendly view in any kind of harassment in Cyprus waters, especially those involving U.S. vessels, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell said

Cyprus, like any other sovereign country, has the right to develop its resources, Mitchell said in an exclusive interview with Kathimerini newspaper. 

“We know Turkey's view, and Turkey's view is a minority of one versus the rest of the world. The rest of the world has a clear straightforward view that the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus is grounded in international law,” Kathimerini quoted Mitchell as saying. 

Mitchell added that the efforts to develop gas resources would also become an impediment to the political process on the island, which was split in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. 

Turkey says a breakaway of Turkish-Cypriot enclave in the north of the island, which is only recognised by Ankara, has a right to a share in the reserves, while the Cypriot government says any proceeds from gas drilling will be shared fairly after a peace deal is established. 

Turkey also claims that parts of some blocks Cyprus has designated as an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for drilling fall inside its continental shelf. 

Turkish warships in February twice blocked the course of an exploration vessel leased by Italian energy firm Eni off Cyprus. 

The Turkish Foreign Ministry last month warned energy companies against working with the Greek Cypriot government, specifically referring to exploratory drilling by U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil. 

“The appropriate US role on this is to message very clearly to everyone, including the Turks, most particularly, what I’ve just said, but also that we would not take a friendly view in any kind of harassment in Cyprus waters, especially when US ships are involved – we saw the incident with ENI, so we do watch these things very carefully. I think we have been clear in our messaging to the Turkish government,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell said that the ties between Turkey and the United States were crucial as Turkey supported the U.S. efforts in Syria to defeat the Islamic State and was a Nato ally. He also said that it was a difficult relationship citing a recent diplomatic row between two countries over the almost two-year detention of an American pastor and Turkey’s decision to buy Russian S-400 missile system.

Mitchell also said that Greek also had a strategic role to play in the region, but that did not mean developing US-Greek cooperation was a substitute to the one between Washington and Ankara.