Despite coming under fire from both the EU and the US, Turkey says it will press on with plans to drill for oil and gas off Cyprus. Arrest warrants have been issued for the crew of a Turkish drilling ship in the area.
Turkey brushed off criticism from the European Union and the United States on Monday, defending its plans to drill for natural gas and oil off Cyprus.
"The legitimate rights of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus over the energy resources of the Eastern Mediterranean are not debatable," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Ankara.
He was speaking alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a North Atlantic Council Mediterranean Dialogue meeting. He urged the alliance to back Turkey's claim to rights in the Mediterranean.
"We expect NATO to respect Turkey's rights in this process and support us in preventing tensions," Erdogan added.
The issue has reignited old tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey and EU member state Cyprus have competing claims of jurisdiction for offshore oil and gas.
Earlier on Monday, Cyprus issued international arrest warrants for the crew of a Turkish drilling ship.
Cypriot State Secretary Vassilis Palmas said that the crew members were conducting research without the approval of the government. The ship is currently located some 60 kilometers (37.3 miles) west of Cyprus.
Cyprus has already signed deals with ExxonMobil and has carried out exploratory drilling off the coast
'Divorced from reality'
Turkey's announcement last week about starting drilling operations in the Mediterranean drew sharp criticism from the European Union and the United States.
Both Brussels and Washington say that the move would encroach on Cyprus' exclusive economic zone.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, expressed "grave concern" on Saturday, urging Ankara to refrain from illegal activity that would prompt the bloc to "respond appropriately and in full solidarity" with Cyprus.
The US State Department said Turkey's move was "highly provocative and risks raising tensions in the region."
Ankara responded that the concerns were "divorced from reality" and that their actions in the Mediterranean are legitimate under international law.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also dismissed the criticism as "not valid."
The island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974 into a predominantly Greek south, whose government is internationally recognized, and a Turkish north, whose sovereignty is only recognized by Ankara.
rs/jm (dpa, Reuters)