Ankara is “prepared to take all necessary measures” to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriots and the Turkish continental shelf in the eastern Aegean, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tells Kathimerini in an interview.
Cavusoglu claims that Block 6 of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), where hydrocarbon exploration is already taking place, is within Turkey’s continental shelf, while reiterating claims by the country that there is no sea border between Greece and Cyprus.
He says that Athens and Ankara need to insist on building a positive agenda in bilateral relations and points to the upcoming High Level Council of Cooperation of Greece and Turkey meeting in Thessaloniki.
The Turkish official does not see Cyprus talks resuming in the immediate future, while he also expresses fears of a renewed refugee flow from Syria due to mounting aggression by the Assad regime.
Cavusoglu says he understands that the Greek government is making an effort to overcome the deadlock regarding the eight Turkish servicemen accused by Ankara of taking part in the failed coup of 2016, but says that they must be extradited to stand trial there. He also addresses international criticism concerning Turkey’s ties with Russia.
Athens hosted the first visit by a Turkish president in 65 years in early December, a historic occasion. Nonetheless, it seems that major issues in Greek-Turkish relations remain unresolved. How could relations be really improved? What would you see as concrete steps in that direction?
President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s visit to Greece was indeed an important step in our relations. The previous lack of presidential visits was not in line with our dialogue process. I accompanied President Erdogan during his visit to Athens and Western Thrace. During the visit, our leaders discussed the issues in an open and frank manner, and both sides are satisfied with the visit.
We do not have any illusions that we can solve our long-standing problems overnight. However, we cannot settle our problems without dialogue, either. In the second half of 2017, there were visits at the presidential, prime-ministerial and foreign-ministerial level between our countries. Bilateral high-level dialogue has indeed intensified, which speaks for itself.
We have well-established dialogue mechanisms at hand to settle our bilateral problems, and we will continue to pursue these efforts.
We should continue to focus on the positive agenda and further our cooperation in various fields. We should also make sure that our public audiences are well informed about the benefits of the high-level dialogue process. At the end of the day, we need public support for any political deal that we will reach.
Therefore, Turkish-Greek relations should not always be portrayed in a negative way in the Greek media. Positive aspects of our relations need to be highlighted, and we support all such initiatives and projects that serve this purpose.
According to statements made by Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, Cyprus and Greece are negotiating to delineate their EEZs. What is Turkey’s point of view on that procedure?
Let me start by explaining our position on this matter from the very beginning. Turkey has submitted to the UN its objection to the Egyptian-Greek Cypriot agreement of 2003 regarding to the so-called “Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone.” After thorough examination, we have clearly stated that the agreement violates Turkey’s continental shelf in areas falling beyond longitude 32Γ 16’ 18” west. This agreement is therefore null and void, according to international law.
We have also submitted to the UN our objection to the Greek hydrocarbon law (4001/2011), which contradicts the well-established rules and principles of international law by attempting to unilaterally define “the outer limits of the Greek continental shelf boundaries through a median line between continental land masses and insular formations, in particular such as the very small island of Kastellorizo (Meis).”
In this respect, it is our well-considered position that the outer limits of the Turkish continental shelf in this part of the Mediterranean follow the median line between the Turkish and Egyptian coastlines, the western terminal point of which will be determined in accordance with the outcome of future delimitation agreements in the Aegean Sea as well as in the Mediterranean among all concerned states. While doing this, no doubt, all relevant and special circumstances in the region will have to be taken into account. For instance, in line with this understanding, Turkey and the TRNC signed a Continental Shelf Delimitation Agreement on 21 September 2011, whose geographical coordinates have also been transmitted to the UN.
Now if I turn back to the specifics of your question, I have to clearly underline that there exists no maritime border between Greece and the island of Cyprus. Such maximalist and unrealistic claims clearly contradict the well-established rules and principles of international law, as well as relevant international jurisprudence regarding delimitation of maritime jurisdiction areas. Therefore, any attempt in this regard will be legally and factually unfounded and will have no effect on Turkey’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its continental shelf.
Turkey fully exercises its sovereign rights over its continental shelf. No foreign country, company, or vessel may conduct any unauthorized hydrocarbon or scientific research activity on Turkey’s continental shelf and the marine areas superjacent to it. This is a very clear fact.
Let me note that in this part of the Mediterranean, delimitation of the maritime jurisdiction areas should be settled by agreement between all related states of the region, based on the principle of equity and in line with the international law. So, if you ask how this could be done, I answer your question by inviting our Greek friends to focus first on finding comprehensive, just and lasting solutions to the Aegean disputes, instead of adding more problems to the already existing catalogue.
Do you see a new UN push on the Cyprus issue sometime in the near future, within 2018?
If you look back at this time last year, there were still some hopes that we could reach a settlement. Those hopes were unfortunately dashed in July, when the Conference on Cyprus closed without an outcome and the negotiation process ended. The settlement efforts failed for a very simple reason: The Greek Cypriots are not willing to share power with the Turkish Cypriots on the island. They still think they can absorb the Turkish Cypriots into their existing administration, instead of establishing a genuinely new partnership based on political equality.
Actually, this is nothing new. The Greek-Cypriot side has displayed this attitude for decades. That was why the 1960 Republic collapsed after only three years, and it was why the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected the Annan Plan in 2004. It is this mentality that underlies the Cyprus issue itself. And it is the Greek Cypriots’ refusal to change their mentality that has led to the failure of process after process, initiative after initiative, for the last 50 years.
The Greek Cypriots, however, are mistaken if they believe the Turkish Cypriots can be reduced to the status of a mere minority. That is never going to happen. The Turkish Cypriots will never agree to it, and Turkey, as a guarantor state in Cyprus, will never allow it.
So where does this leave us with regard to your question? The answer is simple. New negotiations under UN auspices, guided by the same UN parameters that have been the basis for various processes for decades – a bizonal, bicommunal federation based on the political equality of the two sides – can only have a chance of success if the Greek-Cypriot side changes its mind-set. To be very frank with you, I don’t see that happening in the near future, and that means any new negotiations within the same or a similar framework will be meaningless, because they are bound to lead to the same result as in 2017, namely failure.
Let me emphasize one point very strongly: We maintain that only a negotiated settlement based on dialogue and diplomacy can be sustainable. The question now is what form that negotiated settlement is going to take, and what the new goal will be. That is what we must all agree upon. Only then can new negotiations commence.
Right now, in line with the UN secretary-general’s call on all parties, we are in a period of reflection with the Turkish Cypriots. They held parliamentary elections on January 7, and a new government will soon be formed. After the elections in the south, we expect to have a clearer picture of the way ahead.
What should we expect in the next High Level Council of Cooperation of Greece and Turkey? Will it be held soon?
The Fifth High-Level Cooperation Council Meeting (HLCC) is expected to be held in Thessaloniki in the first half of 2018. This is the latest Greek proposal. We are expecting the Greek side’s specific proposed dates for the meeting. Of course, “the earlier, the better.” We should keep momentum moving in the high-level dialogue process.
We are both aware that it could take a while to reach an agreement on bilateral issues. Therefore, in the meantime, we agree that we have to focus on other fields that would further our cooperation. The HLCC process serves this shared goal, and it is positively reflected in the media as well.
We are now working on major transport projects. The agenda now includes launching the Izmir-Thessaloniki Ro-Pax ferry line, the Istanbul-Thessaloniki high-speed rail line, and construction of a second bridge at the Ipsala-Kipi border crossing. Therefore, transportation will be the main theme of the upcoming Thessaloniki HLCC meeting. We support all such initiatives, which could pave the way for more contacts between our peoples.
As usual, a business forum will be held on the sidelines of the HLCC meeting. This will give our business circles the opportunity to explore ways and means to further bilateral trade and investment.
There is also room for further improvement in our cultural cooperation. We have presented our proposal to restore one common cultural heritage site as a joint project in each country. If and when we agree on the cultural properties to be restored, we can announce this in Thessaloniki as a joint effort. This will indeed be a positive message to our public audiences.
Political consultations between the two ministries of foreign affairs started again a few days ago. Are there any issues that are close to some kind of a compromise between the two countries?
Three tours of political consultations have been held in a year’s time between the two foreign ministries at the level of undersecretary / general secretary. The last round of political consultations was held in Ankara on January 12.
Unlike the high-level visits, bilateral issues are covered in a more detailed and technical way during these political consultations. I was briefed about the outcome of the most recent consultations, and I was glad to learn that bilateral problems, international issues, and our efforts on furthering a positive agenda in various fields were all discussed in a positive spirit. The consultations were, in a way, the follow-up of President Erdogan’s visit.
Preparations for the next HLCC meeting to be held in Thessaloniki were discussed in detail. We want the HLCC meeting to conclude with tangible results. This is our shared understanding. Our relevant authorities, led by our foreign ministries, will intensify the efforts in the coming period to reach this goal.
The Greek Supreme Court has ruled that the eight Turkish officers held in Greece cannot be extradited to Turkey. Yet your government repeatedly asks for that, even connecting this case with bilateral relations. What is the next step for Turkey?
We are deeply disappointed by the judgment of the Greek Supreme Court. This attitude of the Greek judiciary is in contradiction with the norms and principles of international law.
The Greek Supreme Court’s judgment on rejecting extradition of the coup plotters leaves these perpetrators without punishment and violates the rights of their victims. With our Greek friends’ assistance, we will continue to seek ways to bring these people to justice in Turkey.
In this regard, our Embassy in Athens recently delivered a new extradition package to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This new package contains new evidence and additional documents that prove the eight fugitives’ involvement in the July 15 coup attempt.
Do you think that these eight people could be tried in Greece for alleged crimes that took place in Turkey, as a Greek minister claimed a few days ago?
We have seen the Greek justice minister’s press statements suggesting the trial of coup plotters before the Greek courts. We understand that our Greek friends are trying to find a solution to this problem created by the Greek judiciary. However, we have serious concerns on transferring a pending trial, which is related to an aggravated crime against the Turkish state, from Turkey to Greece.
When will the new Turkish drillship start its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean?
One of the major elements of Turkish energy policy is to increase the use of its domestic energy resources. This includes the hydrocarbon resources that are potentially located in our maritime jurisdiction areas in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is our sovereign right to search for and to exploit these resources. Therefore, we plan to launch our drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean in the near future.
To my mind, your question is also linked with the Greek Cypriots’ unilateral hydrocarbon-related activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Our position on those activities is quite clear. The Turkish Cypriots, as co-owners of the island of Cyprus, have inalienable rights to the natural resources around it. But the Greek Cypriots’ activities are being conducted in complete disregard of the Turkish-Cypriot people. The Turkish Cypriots were not consulted when the Greek Cypriots declared their so-called exclusive economic zone. They were not consulted when the Greek Cypriots designated their so-called exploration blocks. And they were not consulted when the Greek Cypriots signed licensing agreements with international hydrocarbon companies, some of which have now commenced drilling in certain areas.
We find it unacceptable that the Greek-Cypriot side persists in acting as though it were the sole owner of the island. Both the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey have repeatedly stressed that unilateral exploration and exploitation activities in the Eastern Mediterranean are not legitimate in the absence of a just and lasting comprehensive settlement in Cyprus. We have expressed our concerns, our outrage, and our indignation numerous times, but our complaints continue to fall on deaf ears. Likewise, the proposals made in the past by the Turkish Cypriots, such as establishing an ad hoc committee for licensing and an escrow account for possible revenues, have not been taken into consideration by the Greek Cypriots. They continue to ignore the Turkish-Cypriot side and their proposals.
So the Turkish Cypriots took the logical steps of designating their own licensing areas and signing an agreement with Turkish Petroleum. When Turkey’s new drilling vessel commences activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, it will be within the framework of this cooperation that was requested by the Turkish-Cypriot side, on the legal basis of agreements signed with them.
There is, of course, another dimension to this affair. A segment of one of the areas designated by the Greek Cypriots, namely block number six – where drilling activities are now ongoing – partly falls within Turkey’s continental shelf. It goes without saying that we will never allow unauthorized hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation activities on our continental shelf.
To sum up, let me emphasize our determination both to support the Turkish Cypriots and to help them further their legitimate rights on the island’s natural resources, and to protect our own rights and interests in our continental shelf. Everyone should understand that we are prepared to take all necessary measures to that end.
Recently your government expressed fears concerning rising refugee flows. Do you believe that the situation in northern Syria will get worse before it gets better?
Indeed, there is precisely such a risk due to the Syrian regime’s recent aggression in Idlib. The regime has launched an operation in southeastern Idlib province, violating the borders of the Idlib de-escalation area. We have received reports that the regime is forcibly displacing civilians in the area. Most recently, the UN announced that more than 200,000 people have so far been displaced. Taking into account that the situation has the potential to take a turn for the worse and lead to a mass refugee flow toward Turkey, our authorities are taking the necessary measures to counter such a flow.
Turkey’s priority is reinstating peace and stability in Syria while preserving its political unity and territorial integrity. In order to reach this goal, together with Russia, we declared a nationwide ceasefire in December 2016. To reinforce the ceasefire, we initiated the Astana talks with Russia and Iran, another primary actor on the ground. We continue to warn the other Astana guarantors (Russia and Iran) that the regime’s aggression is against our joint efforts to de-escalate violence and to advance the political process. We have urged them, as guarantors of the regime, to put pressure on the regime to cease its violation of the Idlib de-escalation area.
Does the growing level of cooperation with Russia compromise the quality of relations with your NATO allies?
I really do not understand this zero-sum approach. Look at Turkey: We are in such a location that we are constantly in touch with many actors in the region, including Russia. We have lived side by side with Russians for a thousand years, and that is why we have such a deep-rooted relationship. We have a bilateral trade balance of over 20 billion dollars, big energy projects, and strong cooperation in many other fields, from tourism to construction. And among neighbors, this is normal and how it should be. Now, why do some circles look at this and see a problem? Some countries have closer ties with Russia, and no one questions it. No one tells them, “Hey, you are too close to Russia.” But when it’s Turkey, some people go and ring alarm bells. This is not fair. There is another motive here, which we do not buy. We want good ties with everyone. For us, Moscow is not an alternative to Washington or Brussels. They all complement each other in our foreign policy vision. We do not play a zero-sum game; ours is a win-win approach.