Washington warns Ankara over offshore drilling near Cyprus

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday warned Turkey not to engage in drilling activity that is “illegal” and “unacceptable’’ in the eastern Mediterranean off the divided island of Cyprus.

Pompeo said that Washington would continue to communicate this message to Ankara, BBC Turkish reported .

“We’ve made clear that operations in international waters are governed by a set of rules. We’ve told the Turks that illegal drilling is unacceptable and we’ll continue to take diplomatic actions to ... ensure that lawful activity takes place,” Reuters quoted the U.S. Secretary of State as saying during his visit to Greece.

“No country can hold Europe hostage,” Pompeo said, adding that the relationship between Greece and the United States “has truly never been stronger” and that he is very confident that Greece can be a pillar for stability in this region.

Tensions have intensified in the region after Ankara announced earlier this week it would be sending a drill ship to an area off Cyprus’s southern coast for which France’s Total and Italy’s Eni signed an agreement last month with the Cyprus government.

The island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974 into predominantly Greek Cypriot south, whose government is internationally recognised, and the Turkish Cypriot north, whose sovereignty is only recognised by Ankara.

The Turkish government claims the area licensed by Cyprus falls partly within its own continental shelf.

The EU has imposed sanctions against Turkey for drilling in areas that fall within Cyprus’ exclusive economic rights (EEZ), but that weren’t licensed to energy companies.