EU supports Cypriot call for maritime boundary negotiations with Turkey

The European Union will help Cyprus try to negotiate its maritime borders with Turkey and ease regional tensions caused by a territorial dispute over offshore gas and oil claims, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday.

During a two-day visit to Nicosia, Borell said the EU supported Cyprus’ invitation to Turkey for talks over the issue.

“We welcome the invitation by the government of Cyprus to Turkey to negotiate in good faith the maritime delimitation between their relevant coasts,” the Associated Press quoted Borrell as saying after talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.

“And on that, we will be also engaging because regional stability is a priority of the European Union.”

Borrell’s statement comes during an ongoing spat between Turkey and other countries – including Greece, Egypt, Israel – collaborating on a gas drilling project off the Cyprus coast. Ankara, which does not recognise Cyprus as a state, claims half of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on behalf of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and has repeatedly carried out warship-escorted offshore drilling in the territory.

Turkey maintains that attempts by EU member Cyprus to conduct gas exploration are a violation of the rights of the Turkish Cypriots.

“Turkish illegal drillings must stop,” Borrell tweeted on Thursday after his meeting with Christodoulides.

“Delimitation of exclusive economic zones contested by Turkey must be done in full respect of international law and in good faith, as proposed by Cyprus.”

Turkey has violated the sovereign rights of Cyprus by opting to proceed with its sixth drilling in less than a year, thereby “further destabilising the region”, Agence France Presse quoted Christodoulides as saying.

"Turkey’s actions in Cyprus's maritime zones cannot be seen in isolation... they form part of an alarming behaviour," he added.

“Turkey stands out in the region, as a lone spoiler that seeks to undermine regional cooperation, stability and security. We see this also in Libya, Syria, Iraq,” said Cyprus’ top diplomat, referring to Turkish military operations in those countries.

Ankara and Libya’s Government of National Accord signed a maritime agreement in November to establish an exclusive economic zone to legitimise Turkey’s resource claims in the eastern Mediterranean. The deal creates a sea corridor between the two nations which cuts through the boundaries claimed by Greece and Egypt in a separate agreement.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Wednesday that Turkey will continue to pursue the same policies in the eastern Mediterranean through its involvement in Libya.

“We are tearing up maps in the eastern Mediterranean that were drawn up to imprison us on the mainland. We're making history in Libya,” state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Oktay as saying during a ceremonial speech.

Greece, which has strong cultural ties to Cyprus and its own history of territorial disputes with neighbouring Turkey, has repeatedly accused Turkish forces of violating Greece’s national airspace and territorial waters on a daily basis.

Greek news site Kathimerini quoted Greece’s military authorities who said they recorded 33 violations of the country’s airspace by nine Turkish aircrafts – eight F-16 fighter jets and one CN-235 transport plane – in the Aegean.

Greek pilots engaged in two mock dogfights with some of the aircraft, Kathimerini reported.