Turkey’s president on Wednesday sent a letter to the leaders of EU countries, reiterating Ankara’s call for dialogue with Greece amid tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“I would like to emphasize once again that we are ready for dialogue with Greece without any preconditions,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in the letter addressed to the heads of EU institutions, as well as the leaders of member countries in the bloc except for Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration.
Erdogan underlined that relations with Brussels have always been a priority for Turkey and that “significant progress has been achieved in this regard, especially during our term in office.”
He noted, however, that there have been “compelling challenges” in the six decades spanning the two sides’ relations.
“Recently, our relations stand in the face of another novel challenge due to the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
In the Eastern Mediterranean, tensions have been running high for weeks as Greece has disputed Turkey’s energy exploration.
Turkey — the country with the longest coastline on the Mediterranean — sent out drill ships to explore for energy on its continental shelf, asserting its own rights in the region, as well as those of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
To reduce tensions, Ankara has called for dialogue to ensure fair sharing of the region’s resources.
In the letter, which sought to lay out Turkey’s approach towards the Eastern Mediterranean and its proposals to resolve the problems in the region, Erdogan said Ankara’s policy has two main objectives.
“The first one is the delimitation of maritime jurisdiction areas in an equitable, just and fair way in the Eastern Mediterranean in accordance with international law and the protection of our sovereign rights and jurisdiction over our continental shelf.”
The second, he explained, was to secure equal hydrocarbon rights and interests for Turkish Cypriots as one of the island’s two co-owners.
“In line with these objectives, Turkey wishes that the Eastern Mediterranean becomes a region where all parties cooperate, hydrocarbon resources are shared equitably and fairly, and where peace and stability prevail,” the Turkish president said.
“We wish that, in the same manner that coal and steel became the starting point of the EU, hydrocarbons will lay the ground for the settlement of the Cyprus issue and constitute a basis for the formation of a wider EU.”
Erdogan said that the root cause of the ongoing tension in the Eastern Mediterranean is not Turkey, but Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration.
“The current situation stems from Greek/Greek Cypriots’ attempts to disregard Turkey and Turkish Cypriots, their unilateral steps and fait accomplis and EU’s indifference to developments since 2003,” he added.
Greek Cyprus EU member before settlement
Erdogan said the Greek Cypriot administration, which became a member of the EU before the settlement of the Cyprus issue, has been ignoring Turkish Cypriots.
He added that the Greek Cypriot administration “signed so-called maritime delimitation agreements with neighboring countries in 2003, 2007 and 2010, announced license areas in 2007, carried out international tenders and conducted its first drilling operation in 2011.”
Greece, along with the Greek Cypriot administration, tried to impose its “maximalist maritime jurisdiction claims” that aim to imprison Turkey inside the Gulf of Antalya by using the EU and claiming that these boundaries were its, as well as the EU’s, external maritime borders, Erdogan added.
“Greek/Greek Cypriot duo further went on to establish a mechanism under the name of Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum against Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots and also founded tripartite and quadripartite mechanisms of cooperation against Turkey with countries in the region.”
Meanwhile, Turkey has been emphasizing diplomacy in the Eastern Mediterranean to protect both its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots, Erdogan added.
“However, when our calls for dialogue and cooperation did not yield any results, Turkey started to take steps on the ground in 2018, after waiting for seven years,” he explained.
Turkey advocates a just and equitable delimitation of maritime jurisdiction areas in the Eastern Mediterranean in accordance with international law, he said.
Establishing a cooperation mechanism
Erdogan also pointed out that Turkey has supported from the outset an initiative led by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg for de-confliction among naval and air vessels to reduce tension.
“Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots should establish a cooperation mechanism, including an equitable revenue sharing of hydrocarbon resources, as co-founders of the dissolved Republic of Cyprus and co-owners of the Island,” he added.
To establish such a cooperation mechanism, Erdogan suggested that there is “no need to wait for the settlement of the Cyprus issue.”
“Because both parties on the island operate through international oil companies in their respective designated license areas. Only the two peoples on the Island should decide together whether to suspend or continue these activities,” he underlined.
Erdogan said he “believes it would be extremely beneficial to establish an inclusive energy cooperation forum that will bring together all parties in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Turkish Cypriots.”
He added that Turkey is ready to provide support for steps in this direction, he added.
“I wish that the EU supports these thoughts of ours, drops the partial position that it has taken up against a candidate country, Turkey, and does not unjustly and unconditionally advocate the maximalist theses of Greece and the GCA.”
Erdogan said the bloc’s “partial stance” against Turkey “contravenes the EU acquis and international law,” complicating the solution, heightening tensions and harming Turkey-EU relations, as well as their common interests in many areas.
What Turkey expects from the EU, Erdogan said, “is to remain impartial, to maintain an equal distance from everyone, as well as to promote dialogue and cooperation.”
“It is unfair and unjust to demand that Turkey and Turkish Cypriots halt their hydrocarbon research activities before the above-mentioned steps are taken.”
He also pointed out that the “good faith” Ankara had shown by meeting with Athens in July had been met by Greece signing a delimitation agreement with Egypt on Aug. 6, adding that this “exacerbated distrust.”
“No one should expect Turkey, with the longest coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, to be confined to her territorial waters, while the coastal states of the Eastern Mediterranean carry on their hydrocarbon programs and activities, the axes of malice against Turkey continue and the Turkish Cypriots are ignored.”
Turkey ready for dialogue, cooperation
Turkey has always “stood ready for dialogue and cooperation,” Erdogan said.
“We have not yielded to the maximalist demands that have been attempted to be imposed upon us through the EU,
“We are not after the rights of any country. However, we have always protected and will continue to protect our rights and those of the Turkish Cypriots as the guarantor power,” he explained.
“It is our common responsibility to find an equitable and peaceful solution to the issues in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Urging the promotion of dialogue and cooperation, he said “steps and decisions which could further aggravate the current crisis,” should be avoided.
Erdogan expressed Turkey’s desire for the revision of the 2016 migration agreement between them “with due consideration to the current circumstances, and a step by step strengthening of Turkey-EU relations with all its aspects and in line with our common interests.”
“I believe that the path to achieve this goes through the awareness of the vital importance that our relations entail for our common interests in many various areas, such as illegal migration, terrorism, trade, energy, and I look forward to your valuable support to this end.”
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