ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey plans to send a fourth ship to waters off Cyprus to search for gas and oil despite European Union moves to curb contacts and funding for Ankara over the issue, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
“The decisions will not affect in the slightest our country’s determination to continue hydrocarbon activities in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
The dispute stems from overlapping claims to regional waters by Turkey and Cyprus linked to the split of the island between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Ankara rejects agreements the internationally recognized Cypriot government has reached with other Mediterranean states on maritime economic zones.
Turkey has told energy firms not to work with the Cypriot government and sent ships to drill off the island, divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a Greek-inspired coup.
EU foreign ministers on Monday suspended negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement and agreed not to hold the Association Council and further meetings of the EU-Turkey high-level dialogues for the time being.
It also endorsed a proposal to reduce the pre-accession assistance to Turkey for 2020 and invited the European Investment Bank to review its lending activities in Turkey, notably with regard to sovereign-backed lending.
The EU’s failure to mention Turkish Cypriots in its decisions “showed how biased and partisan the EU is on the subject of Cyprus,” the ministry said in a statement.
Turkey has no diplomatic relations with the internationally recognized Cypriot government and is the only country which recognizes the breakaway state in the north of the island.
Cyprus says Turkey’s drilling operations are contrary to international law and that decisions on hydrocarbons are its sovereign right.
Nicosia also rejected an offer by the breakaway north for talks on sharing gas reserves, calling it a thinly-disguised attempt to divert attention away from the need to resume peace talks for a comprehensive settlement to the islands’ division.
“Mr Akinci’s proposal seeks to deflect away from the real issue, which is how to solve the Cyprus problem,” said Cypriot government official Vassilis Palmas, referring to Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.
Discovery of hydrocarbons has added a new twist to one of the oldest conflicts on the United Nations agenda, spanning more than half a century.
On Sunday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey will continue drilling if the Cypriot government does not accept a Turkish Cypriot cooperation proposal.
And in North Macedonia on Tuesday, Cavusoglu dismissed the EU steps, telling a news conference in Skopje: “There is no need to take it very seriously. These are simple things. These aren’t things that will impact us.”
“We have three ships there, God willing we will send a fourth ship to the eastern Mediterranean as soon as possible. Let them understand that they cannot deal with Turkey with such methods,” he added.
The Turkish ship Fatih started drilling off western Cyprus in May. A second drilling ship, Yavuz, arrived off the northeastern coast this month.
Turkish seismic research vessel Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa is currently south of Cyprus, while the fourth ship will also be a seismic research vessel called Oruc Reis, Turkey’s energy minister said.
An EU diplomat told Reuters Ankara could lose some 150 million of 400 million euros the bloc had earmarked for 2020 for everything from political reforms to agriculture projects to help Turkey prepare for eventual EU membership.
The EU had been due to give Turkey 4.45 billion euros between 2014 and 2020, but it cut and suspended some funding last year. It has frozen membership talks and negotiations on upgrading its customs union with Turkey, accusing President Tayyip Erdogan of grave violations of human rights.
Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen, Michele Kambas; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Angus MacSwan