NICOSIA (Reuters) – The United States remains “deeply concerned” about Turkey’s actions in the eastern Mediterranean, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday, calling for a diplomatic end to the simmering offshore natural resource crisis.
Tensions in the eastern Mediterranean have risen over claims and counterclaims pitting Turkey against Greece and Cyprus in maritime areas considered to be rich in natural gas.
“Countries in the region must resolve disagreements, including over security and energy resources and maritime issues in a diplomatic and peaceful manner,” Pompeo said during a short-lived trip to Cyprus on Saturday evening, where he met the president Nicos Anastasiades.
“The increase in military tensions helps no one other than adversaries who would like to see division in transatlantic unity,” he said.
Turkey has sent two study vessels to separate areas of the region, prompting strong protests from Cyprus and Greece, who claim Ankara operates on their respective continental shelves.
Turkey says it has a legitimate claim on the region. There is no agreement between Greece and Turkey to delimit their continental shelves, while Turkey disputes the claims of Cyprus, with which it has no diplomatic relations.
“We remain deeply concerned about Turkey’s ongoing operations… the Republic of Cyprus has the right to exploit its natural resources, including the right to hydrocarbons found… in its exclusive economic zone,” Pompeo said.
The eastern Mediterranean island was divided in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Its internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government represents the entire island of the European Union, although its authority is effectively limited to the southern part. Northern Cyprus is an unrecognized Turkish Cypriot state recognized only by Ankara.
Earlier this month, the United States said it would lift a 33-year embargo on “non-lethal defense articles” applied to Cyprus in 1987 and deepen its security cooperation with Nicosia, prompting a backlash of anger from Turkey.
Pompeo said he also raised concerns with Anastasiades about Russian money laundering – something Cyprus repeatedly denies – as well as the Russian Navy’s frequent port calls to the island.
“We know that not all Russian military ships that call at Cypriot ports conduct humanitarian missions in Syria and we call on Cyprus and the President to take our concerns into account,” Pompeo said.