Turkey Wrangles With France Over East Mediterranean Energy Rift

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized France for wading into his country’s dispute with neighbors Greece and Cyprus in the energy-rich eastern Mediterranean, deepening a confrontation with the European Union.

Tensions in the region flared this week after Turkey began exploration and naval exercises in waters where both Ankara and Athens claim exclusive economic rights. President Emmanuel Macron announced on Wednesday that France was temporarily boosting its military presence in area to ward against Turkey’s steps.

“No one should see themselves as a giant in the mirror,” Erdogan said on Thursday in a clear reference to Paris. “They should not go after making a show,” he added ahead of planned calls with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel.

The eastern Mediterranean has become an energy hot spot with big finds for EU member Cyprus, Israel and Egypt in recent years, and Turkey’s push to secure a share of the resources has exacerbated strains. The offshore gas reserves have attracted companies from around the world, including ExxonMobil Corp.

The EU is already considering imposing sanctions against Erdogan’s government for acting unilaterally near the island of Cyprus, rather than negotiate with rival claimants.

By continuing an “aggressive” policy in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey risks getting sanctioned by the EU, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Wednesday. Erdogan on Thursday insisted Turkey was open to solving disputes through dialog.

Israel has also expressed its full support for Greece in a row that could complicate construction of the EastMed natural gas pipeline project that would link Cyprus, Greece and Israel.

Turkey doesn’t recognize Greece’s claim that its territorial waters start immediately south of the island of Kastellorizo, the most distant Greek outpost in the contested area. It argues that a country’s continental shelf should be measured from its mainland.

Cagatay Erciyes, a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official in charge of maritime and aviation boundary affairs, has tweeted that position.

“Demanding maritime jurisdiction based on a island which is 2 kilometers away from the Turkish coast and 580 kilometers away from the mainland Greece can’t be explained with common sense,” Erdogan said. “It is funny to claim that a 10 square kilometer island has a 40,000 square kilometer maritime jurisdiction.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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