US concern at tensions off Cyprus coast

As Turkey fuels fears in the eastern Mediterranean by insisting on maintaining the seismic survey vessel Barbaros off the southern coast of Cyprus, Washington has expressed its concern over renewed tensions in the region and has underlined its support for Nicosia’s sovereignty and right to develop resources in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In a media briefing in Washington over the weekend, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US has not changed its position on Cyprus. “We continue to recognize the Republic of Cyprus’s right to develop its resources and its exclusive economic zones,” she said. Asked why Washington does not call on Turkey to stop transgressions off Cyprus, in the same way as it called on China to freeze provocative acts in the South China Sea, Psaki said, “every region and every conflict and every country is different.”

Her comments came shortly after US Vice President Joe Biden and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades discussed regional developments and the “strategic partnership” between the US and Cyprus in a telephone conversation. Biden expressed his hope that tensions will be de-escalated through diplomacy and pledged to urge all sides to pursue “a mutually beneficial approach to developing energy resources.”

The two leaders also discussed the need for stalled peace talks on Cyprus to resume.

“We continue to support strongly the negotiation process conducted under UN Good Offices to reunify the island into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation,” Psaki said.

Nicosia halted the latest UN-buffered peace drive on Cyprus earlier this month in protest at Turkey’s plans to search for oil and gas in waters where the Cypriot government has already licensed companies to drill.

A decision by Turkey’s National Security Council to maintain its presence off the southern coast of Cyprus, despite objections by Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, has heightened fears of tensions climaxing in the region.

In a related development, in an article in Sunday’s Kathimerini, Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos said Greece should not allow third parties to exploit the country’s financial crisis in a bid to “force concessions or compromises on key national issues” such as the Cyprus problem and Greek-Turkish relations in the Aegean.

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