US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said on Saturday that the US is “deeply concerned” over Turkey’s actions in the eastern Mediterranean urging Turkey, Greece and Cyprus to resolve the maritime dispute through diplomatic routes. This statement comes in the light of Turkey’s energy surveys and military exercises in waters where both Turkey and Greece assert maritime sovereignty.
Currently, there is no agreement between Greece and Turkey delimiting their continental shelves. On the other hand, Turkey and Cyprus have no diplomatic relationship sine 1974. The disputed water in the Aegean Sea is said to be rich in natural gas reserves. Turkey has sent its survey ship, Oruc Reis to carry out drilling survey in waters close to the Greek island of Kastellorizo which Greece argues is encroaching its continental shelf. Both the NATO members have deployed their navies in the waters.
According to Turkey, despite having the largest coastline in Eastern Mediterranean, it is confined to a narrow strip of waters in the Aegean Sea due to extension of Greece’s continental shelf as the entire eastern coast of the sea is dotted with Greek islands. Turkey’s Vice President, Fuat Oktay said last month to the media that Ankara was tearing up maps “drawn to imprison us on the mainland” and that “islands that are far from the mainland and closer to Turkey cannot have a continental shelf”. The Greek island of Kastellorizo is about 2 km off Turkey while it is 570 km from Greek mainland.
The issue began with the European Union (EU) plans to build a 2000 km gas pipeline from Mediterranean waters to Europe to reduce their dependence on Russia. However, the EU kept Turkey out of the project. In light of this, in 2019 the East Med Gas Forum was formed involving Greece and Cyprus against which Turkey formed an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with Libya which was rejected by Greece as the zone included the Greek island of Crete. With EU backing Greece, this issue has the potential to involve Europe, West Asia and North Africa.