U.S. urges Turkey to halt drilling in waters off Cyprus

The United States urged Turkey to halt drilling for gas off Cyprus, calling the arrival this week of a second Turkish drillship off the island a provocative step.

“The United States remains deeply concerned by Turkey’s repeated attempts to conduct drilling operations in the waters off Cyprus and its most recent dispatch of the drillship Yavuz off the Karpas Peninsula,” a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said in a statement. 

“This provocative step raises tensions in the region. We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint and refrain from actions that increase tensions in the region,” she said. 

The United States said it believed Cyprus’ oil and gas resources should be equitably shared between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the context of an overall settlement of the division of the island. 

Turkey’s second drillship Yavuz arrived off the east coast of Cyprus on Monday and is set to drill until September 30 with the help of three supporting vessels of the Turkish navy. It followed the first Turkish ship, the Fatih, which was dispatched in May and has been anchored west of Cyprus since last month.

Turkey maintains the northern Turkish Cypriot state, which only it recognises, should receive a fair share from the gas resources of the island. But the internationally recognised Cypriot government says any wealth will be divided once the island is reunited. 

Cyprus has divided its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for gas drilling into 13 blocks and Turkey has made claims to parts of blocks 1, 4, 6 and 7.

Meanwhile a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Congress that was ratified by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in late June might shift the United States’ primary alliance in the eastern Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece. The East Med Act would allow the United States to fully support the trilateral partnership of Israel, Greece and Cyprus through energy and defence cooperation initiatives and proposes the lifting of the long-standing arms embargo on Cyprus.

Cyprus is also backed by the European Union, which declared last month that it was ready to consider sanctions if Turkey continued drilling. Citing a person familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that EU government envoys would discuss a range of measures in Brussels on Wednesday, which include limiting the European Investment Bank’s sovereign-backed lending in Turkey and cutting of some 146 million euros ($163 million) in aid for next year.

The measures proposed by the European Commission also include suspending all ministerial and leaders’ meetings as well as ongoing negations over an aviation agreement, Bloomberg said.