Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced a maritime deal between Greece and Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean as “worthless,” saying his country will resume its controversial oil and gas exploration in the area.
Speaking after Friday prayers in the recently-reconverted Hagia Sophia Mosque, Erdogan said the deal was a supposed response to Turkey’s maritime agreement with Libya’s internationally-recognized government that had been reached last year.
The maritime deal angered Greece at the time, which slammed it as an “infringement on its sovereignty” that could complicate Athens’ decades-old disputes with Ankara over Cyprus and maritime rights in the Aegean Sea.
Erdogan said Turkey had paused research in waters disputed with Greece after a request from German Chancellor Angela Merkel but had now restarted research activities.
“I told (Merkel) we’ll pause drilling for three to four weeks if you trust Greece and the others… but I don’t trust them and you will see,” the Turkish president said. “We have immediately resumed exploration activities.”
He said the Turkish research vessel Barbaros Hayreddin, which is sailing off the western coast of Cyprus, would continue working in the area.
On Thursday, Egypt and Greece signed a bilateral agreement that sets the sea boundary between the two countries and demarcates an exclusive economic zone for oil and gas drilling rights.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry described the deal as “null and void” in a statement late Thursday, stressing that Greece and Egypt had no mutual sea border. The ministry also said the deal attempted to usurp Libya’s maritime rights.
Turkey and Greece are locked in a dispute over offshore rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
European Union (EU) member Cyprus and Turkey have also argued for years regarding the ownership of fossil fuels in the eastern Mediterranean, where Ankara says Turkish Cypriots are entitled to a share of the resources.
Turkey rejects the agreements that the internationally-recognized Cypriot government has reached with other Mediterranean states on maritime economic zones.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief, Greek-inspired coup. Several peacemaking efforts have failed, and the discovery of offshore resources in the eastern Mediterranean has complicated the matter.