UPDATES WITH MORE REMARKS FROM TURKISH VP
By Mumin Altas
LEFKOSA, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (AA) - Turkey will never bow to the EU Foreign Affairs Council sanctions and pressures declared "against Turkey's drilling activities in Eastern Mediterranean", the country's vice president said on Saturday.
Fuat Oktay's remarks came at an event to mark the 45th anniversary of Turkey’s military operation launched to protect Turkish population in Cyprus.
The European Council published a final declaration Monday following a meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council attended by foreign ministers of member states.
The council said in the statement that in light of Turkey’s "continued and new illegal drilling activities," it would suspend civil aviation negotiations and "agree not to hold the Association Council and further meetings of the EU-Turkey high-level dialogues for the time being".
Oktay said that Turkey has always defended from the very beginning that the energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean should be used as an opportunity for peace and stability on the island.
Stressing that Turkey would never hesitate to take the necessary steps to protect rights and interests of both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots within their continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean, Oktay said: "Turkey is acting in unity as one heart and one voice on this issue."
"We have implemented all the steps that we have always strongly emphasized since the beginning and we will continue to do so," Oktay said, referring to Turkey's drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
- Ongoing dispute
Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) also has rights to the resources in the area.
Since this spring, Ankara has sent two drilling vessels -- Fatih and most recently Yavuz -- to the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting the right of Turkey and the TRNC to the resources of the region.
Turkey’s first seismic vessel, the Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa, bought from Norway in 2013, has been conducting exploration in the Mediterranean since April 2017.
Athens and Greek Cypriots have opposed the move, threatening to arrest the ships’ crews and enlisting EU leaders to join their criticism.
In 1974, following a coup aiming at Cyprus’ annexation by Greece, Ankara had to intervene as a guarantor power. In 1983, the TRNC was founded.
The decades since have seen several attempts to resolve the Cyprus dispute, all ending in failure. The latest one, held with the participation of the guarantor countries -- Turkey, Greece, and the U.K. -- ended in 2017 in Switzerland.
"The Greek Cypriot side, which does not accept this, believes that they can stop our country's activities with the perception it has created by abusing its EU membership," Oktay added.
"The Greek Cypriot side did not even agree to discuss the proposal of the Turkish Cypriot side on July 13 on the basis of equality of hydrocarbon resources, including a proposal for the establishment of a joint committee and took a stand on the side of deadlocks rather than a solution," Oktay said.
- Common resources
TRNC President Mustafa Akinci, for his part, said Turkey's 1974 military operation launched to protect Turkish population in Cyprus led to a two-sided substructure based on equality and security, preventing Enosis -- the annexation of islands in favor of Greece.
Akinci pointed out that the TRNC's proposal aimed to avoid unilateral attempts, however, he said "the situation has become tense especially due to the natural gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean."
"Since these resources are considered to be our common wealth, we have proposed to establish a joint committee to evaluate them and decide on these issues," Akinci added.
Akinci said the Greek Cypriot side rejected the proposal and took side with a unilateral approach.
"This case did not leave us [TRNC] and Turkey any other choice than to take similar steps to balance the unilateral initiatives of the Greek Cypriot administration," Akinci said.
Later in the day, Oktay and the Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ersin Tatar signed an agreement on economic and financial cooperation.
Speaking during his visit to Tatar, Oktay said that Turkey has allocated some 750 million Turkish liras for the first phase as part of the agreement.
“Strengthening of the structural reforms in the TRNC is of great importance for us,” Oktay said.
He added that the funds transfer, which will be done within this year, would accelerate investments and services.