NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The European Union will help Cyprus try to negotiate its maritime border with neighboring Turkey in order to end an ongoing wrangle that has raised tensions in the east Mediterranean, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Thursday.
Borrell said the the 27-member bloc supports Cyprus’ call on Turkey to negotiate a maritime border agreement and will assist these efforts with the aim of buttressing regional stability.
“We welcome the invitation by the government of Cyprus to Turkey to negotiate in good faith the maritime delimitation between their relevant coasts," Borrell said after talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.
“And on that, we will be also engaging because regional stability is a priority of the European Union."
Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state and has sent warship-escorted ships to drill for gas in waters where the ethnically split island nation has exclusive economic rights.
Turkey claims nearly half of Cyprus' exclusive economic zone and says it's acting to protect its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots in the island's breakaway north.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Although Cyprus is an EU member, only the internationally recognized south reaps full membership benefits.
Cyprus accuses Turkey of flouting international law and of using force to get its own way in the region, calling it part of “alarming behavior" that upends moves by other countries in the region to forge partnerships.
Significant gas deposits have been found in recent years in areas where Cyprus has licensed companies including France's Total, Italy's Eni and ExxonMobil to search for hydrocarbons.
“Turkey stands out in the region, as a lone spoiler that seeks to undermine regional cooperation, stability and security," Christodoulides said. “We see this also in Libya, Syria, Iraq."
Cyprus’ deputy government spokesman said Borrell told Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in a meeting that the EU would “continue to send clear messages to Ankara to respect international law” and that the bloc would “exert pressure on Turkey to immediately ends its violations.”
Borrell repeated that the EU fully supports Cyprus' sovereign rights and has taken concrete action to back up its words. The bloc has imposed sanctions on top Turkish petroleum company officials over drilling in Cypriot waters.
The EU official lauded Cyprus for trying avoid an escalation “that could be damaging for all of us” and said maritime border negotiations should be in line with international law and good neighborly relations.
“That’s why the European Union was invented to foster good neighbors relations and to find solutions through dialogue and negotiations,” Borrell said.