Turkey will continue drilling for gas in waters off Cyprus if the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government does not accept a cooperation proposal put forward by Turkish Cypriots, Ankara's foreign minister said on Sunday.
Mevlut Cavusoglu said a proposal by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci that both parties on the divided island cooperate in exploration and exploitation of gas could contribute to stability and peace in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tensions in the region have risen after Turkey told energy firms not to work with the Greek Cypriot government, and sent two ships to drill off the island. Cyprus issued arrest warrants for the crew of one of the ships, and the European Union is discussing curbing contacts and funds for Turkey in response.
The dispute stems from overlapping claims to regional waters by Turkey and Cyprus, linked to the 45-year-old split of the island and Ankara's rejection of agreements Cyprus has reached with other Mediterranean states on maritime economic zones.
In an article for the Cyprus Post, Cavusoglu said that until Greek Cypriots adopt the proposals set out by Akinci on Saturday to work with Turkish Cypriots, Turkey would continue operations in areas where Turkish Cypriot authorities have licensed it to work, "with determination and without change".
Turkey's Fatih ship started drilling off western Cyprus in May. A second drilling ship, Yavuz, arrived off the northeastern coast last week.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief, Greek-inspired coup. Several peacemaking efforts have failed and the discovery of offshore resources in the eastern Mediterranean has complicated the negotiations.
Turkey, which has no diplomatic relations with Cyprus, is the only country which recognizes 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.
Ankara says that Greek Cypriot authorities cannot make agreements about maritime economic zones or energy exploration on behalf of the whole island. It also says that the seas around Cyprus lie on its own continental shelf.
Last week EU diplomats prepared to curb contacts and funding for Ankara in a display of solidarity with EU member state Cyprus, in whose exclusive economic zone they said the Turkish ships were interfering.
A draft decision discussed by the diplomats said that in light of Turkey's "continued and new illegal drilling activities" the bloc should reduce funding linked to Ankara's long-stalled talks for accession to the union.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan criticized the bloc, saying it had not lived up to its duties on Cyprus.
"In the face of all of these developments, we can't view positively those who speak, make a noise here," broadcaster Haberturk quoted him as saying on Sunday.
"Now the EU comes forward and says what? It will impose sanctions. Do whatever your sanction is. Sorry, you have not defended the rights of Turks in northern Cyprus," he said. "You have not followed through on your promises."
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Irem Koca and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Mark Potter and Catherine Evans)