Tusk cautions Turkey over Mediterranean gas exploration

Brussels – European Council President Donald Tusk has urged Turkey to avoid raising tensions by blocking the exploration of a potential natural gas field off the coast of EU member Cyprus.

After a phone call with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Tusk urged Ankara to instead “commit to good neighbourly relations, peaceful dispute settlement and respect for territorial sovereignty.”

War ships block gas exploration

A European Commission spokeswoman had earlier criticized the presence of Turkish warships preventing a ship rented by Italian energy company ENI from reaching the research area south-east of Larnaca.

“Turkey needs to commit unequivocally to good neighbourly relations and avoid any kind of source of friction, threat or action,” she said. Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides on Saturday said that the Italian government and EU had been informed of the incident.

ENI, which has been exploring the area in a consortium with French multinational Total, last week reported a gas discovery in a “promising field.”

Reviving historic tensions

That drilling reignited old tensions in the south-eastern Mediterranean Sea and Cyprus, an island-state that has been divided into a predominantly Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north since 1974.

After ENI and Total began drilling in July, Turkey has insisted that the Greek Cypriot administration may not unilaterally move to exploit resources and deployed a military ship to the area in November.

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but EU rules only apply in the southern Greek part. The northern territory, populated by ethnic Turks, had been recognized only by Ankara.

Repeated attempts to reunify the island have failed, most recently in July 2017, because Turkey has insisted on maintaining 35,000 soldiers on the northern part of the island.