EU warns Turkey against ‘illegal’ Mediterranean gas exploration plans
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EU warns Turkey against ‘illegal’ Mediterranean gas exploration plans

After Erdogan vows to start searching waters ‘as soon as possible,’ defying a mega-deal signed by Israel, Greece and Cyprus, European countries accuse Ankara of stoking conflict

This photo from June 24, 2019, in the Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus shows the drilling vessel Fatih, which was deployed by Turkey to search for gas and oil in waters considered part of the EU state's exclusive economic zone. (AFP)
This photo from June 24, 2019, in the Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus shows the drilling vessel Fatih, which was deployed by Turkey to search for gas and oil in waters considered part of the EU state's exclusive economic zone. (AFP)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Union has urged Turkey to drop plans to drill for oil and gas around Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean, saying such exploration was “illegal.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed Thursday that his country would start exploring for gas in the eastern Mediterranean “as soon as possible” this year, after signing a maritime deal with Libya.

“Concrete steps towards creating an environment conducive to dialogue in good faith are needed,” EU foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano said in a statement released Saturday.

“The intention by Turkey to launch further exploration and drilling activities in the wider region goes, regrettably, in the opposite direction.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the plenary session of the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London, on December 4, 2019. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Ankara has angered neighboring countries in the Mediterranean with an agreement signed with the Tripoli government in November, which claimed extensive areas of the sea for Turkey.

Greece says the deal fails to take into account the island of Crete, while Turkey has already upset Cyprus by sending ships to search for oil and gas off the divided island.

Erdogan has said it is “no longer legally possible” for any search and drilling activities or a pipeline without Libya or Turkey’s approval.

Earlier this month, Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed a major deal to construct an EastMed pipeline to ship gas to Europe, despite Turkey’s vehement opposition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis (C) and Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis shake hands in Athens on January 2, 2020, ahead of the signing of an agreement for the EastMed pipeline project designed to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe. (Aris Messins/AFP)

“The international law of the sea, the principle of good neighborly relations and the sovereignty and sovereign rights over the maritime zones of all Member States have to be respected,” the EU statement said.

Possible sanctions could be discussed as early as Monday when the bloc’s foreign ministers meet in Brussels, officials said.

Erdogan, who is in Berlin Sunday for a Libya peace conference, has rejected what he has called “ultimatums” issued by the EU, reminding the bloc that some four million refugees, mostly Syrian, are currently in Turkey which, he has threatened, could start sending them to the EU.

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