By Daren Butler
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – European Union decisions to curb contacts and funding for Turkey over its drilling for gas and oil off Cyprus will not affect Ankara’s determination to pursue energy activities in the region, the Turkish foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
Turkey has told energy firms not to work with the Cypriot government and sent ships to drill off the island, divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a Greek-inspired coup.
EU foreign ministers on Monday suspended negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement and agreed not to hold the Association Council and further meetings of the EU-Turkey high-level dialogues for the time being.
It also endorsed a proposal to reduce the pre-accession assistance to Turkey for 2020 and invited the European Investment Bank to review its lending activities in Turkey, notably with regard to sovereign-backed lending.
“The decisions will not affect in the slightest our country’s determination to continue hydrocarbon activities in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
It said the EU’s failure to mention Turkish Cypriots in its decisions “showed how biased and partisan the EU is on the subject of Cyprus”.
The dispute stems from overlapping claims to regional waters by Turkey and Cyprus, linked to the 45-year-old split of the island between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and Ankara’s rejection of agreements Cyprus has reached with other Mediterranean states on maritime economic zones.
Turkey, which has no diplomatic relations with the internationally recognised Cypriot government, is the only country which recognises the breakaway state in the north of the island.
Cyprus says Turkey’s drilling operations are contrary to international law and that decisions on hydrocarbons are its sovereign right.
The Turkish foreign ministry said Ankara was protecting its rights over its continental shelf and the equal rights of Turkish Cypriots over hydrocarbon resources.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday Turkey will continue drilling if the Cypriot government does not accept a Turkish Cypriot cooperation proposal.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci’s proposal that both parties on the island cooperate in exploration and exploitation of gas could contribute to stability and peace in the eastern Mediterranean, Cavusoglu said.
Turkey’s Fatih ship started drilling off western Cyprus in May. A second drilling ship, Yavuz, arrived off the northeastern coast earlier this month.
An EU diplomat told Reuters Ankara could lose some 150 million of 400 million euros the bloc had earmarked for 2020 for everything from political reforms to agriculture projects to help Turkey prepare for eventual EU membership.
The EU had been due to give Turkey 4.45 billion euros between 2014 and 2020, but it cut and suspended some funding last year. It has frozen membership talks and negotiations on upgrading its customs union with Turkey, accusing President Tayyip Erdogan of grave violations of human rights.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Angus MacSwan)