Spain backs Cyprus in row with Turkey over East Med
NICOSIA – Spain’s foreign minister on Wednesday said her country rejects Turkey’s unilateral search for energy reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean, adding that such actions hinder a negotiated way out of a territorial dispute that has ratcheted up regional tensions.
Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya expressed support for fellow European Union member Cyprus as Turkey continues to prospect for gas in waters where the Mediterranean island nation claims exclusive economic rights.
“We don’t believe there is a unilateral solution to the problems of the eastern Mediterranean region,” Laya said after talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.
“And therefore, we reject unilateral moves that are not helping in finding a long-lasting solution.”
Spain’s top diplomat said negotiations and dialogue are the only way to resolve the complex maritime boundaries issue, which also triggered a weeks-long naval standoff between NATO allies Greece and Turkey this month.
“I’m saying this as this is exactly what Spain is doing to delimit its maritime borders with its neighbours. So I’m not preaching anything different from what I’m practicing,” Laya said.
Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Athens supports Cyprus’s call for fresh EU sanctions against individuals and companies involved in Turkey’s gas search amid “intensified Turkish wrongdoing in the wider region.”
Dendias said after talks with Christodoulides late Wednesday that the possibility for more economic measures against Turkey should remain open in case it carries on with its ”illegal” actions.
The leaders of the EU’s 27 member nations are expected to discuss potential sanctions against Turkey, which is not a member, at a two-day summit starting Thursday.
Turkey insists that it is entitled to carry out a gas search off Cyprus in order to protect its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots who run a breakaway state in the island’s northern third that’s recognised only by Ankara.
Turkey doesn’t recognise Cyprus as a state and claims that much of the ethnically divided island’s exclusive economic zone as lying over its own continental shelf.
Christodoulides hailed Turkey’s withdrawal of a warship-escorted survey vessel from Greece-claimed waters as a “positive first step” to deescalating tensions at sea.
Greece says it is hopeful that the move can pave the way for talks on a Greek-Turkish maritime border deal, but that it’s up to Turkey to prove that it won’t backtrack.
But the Cypriot foreign minister said Turkey has stepped up its activities in Cyprus’s maritime zones, displaying a “total disregard” for European Union calls to cease its “unlawful” actions and to respect the sovereign rights of a bloc member.
Dendias said the Greek government has asked for a list of potential measures the EU could take against Turkey so that Ankara “understands that there will be consequences if it carries on with its illegal actions.”
“Our wish, of course, remains that it doesn’t become necessary for these measures to be taken,” Dendias said.
Christodoulides said Cyprus expects EU leaders to honour a deal the bloc’s foreign ministers struck last month to simultaneously impose sanctions on Turkey as well as Belarusian officials suspected of election fraud or involvement in a security crackdown on anti-government protesters.
“Cyprus looks to the EU and its partners for solidarity in action,” Christodoulides said.
“Concretely upholding our common values and interests and implementing our own decisions is of the essence.”