US Urges Turkey to Stop Oil Drilling Off Cyprus

FILE- The Turkish national flag hangs in the foreground as drilling vessel Fatih is seen off the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya Turkey

Two Turkish drillships, Yavuz and Fatih, are now anchored off the coast of Cyprus in order to drill for oil and gas.

"As she [Turkey] protects its own continental shelf rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey will continue to defend Turkish Cypriots' rights and interests around the Island, insofar as the Greek Cypriots do not involve Turkish Cypriots in the decision-making mechanisms, including the revenue sharing on hydrocarbon resources, and guarantee their rights", the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

European Union leaders have squarely sided with Cyprus in the dispute, declaring last month that they are ready to consider sanctions if Turkey continues drilling.

The ministry noted that the Fatih drilling ship had begun its activities west of the island in early May and confirmed that the Yavuz had just arrived in the offshore area to the east and will conduct exploration activities in the coming days.

The Yavuz drillship dropped anchor on Monday to the south of Cyprus' Karpasia peninsula, a jutting northeastern panhandle.

Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.

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According to the UN Law of the Sea, coastal states have a right to 320km of maritime territory from their coast or a baseline drawn off their coast where they can declare an "exclusive economic zone" (EEZ), where they have a right to explore and exploit natural resources.

Turkey and the internationally-recognised government of the divided island have overlapping claims in that part of the Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich in natural gas. Turkish Cypriots claim most of seven blocks in the east.

European Union diplomats are meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss any possible sanctions on Turkey over the drilling before European Union foreign ministers meet on Monday.

"We reiterate our full support and solidarity with the Republic of Cyprus and its people and call on Turkey to cease all activities within Cyprus EEZ and respect the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus and rights of people of Cyprus to pursue their political, social and economic development without external pressure", the statement read. "This provocative step raises tensions in the region".

The United States and Egypt also joined a chorus of criticism this week, with Washington urging Turkish authorities "to halt these operations".

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