ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey could use its military forces to halt any exploratory gas drilling in waters off Cyprus that it claims as its own, Turkey’s foreign minister warned Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the pro-government A Haber news channel that Turkey “has the right to prevent” any unauthorized drilling in waters that it says fall within its own continental shelf.
Asked specifically if Turkey could use military means to stop such drilling, Cavusoglu said “of course.”
Part of the area that Turkey claims are waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights and where companies including France’s Total and Italy’s Eni are licensed by the east Mediterranean island nation to jointly carry out drilling.
A consortium made up of the two companies is licensed to conduct exploratory drilling in seven of Cyprus’ 13 ‘blocks’ that make up Cyprus exclusive economic zone. The consortium has announced that it would proceed with a new round of exploratory drilling in the new year.
Other licensed companies looking for hydrocarbons inside Cyprus’ zone include ExxonMobil with partner Qatar Petroleum as well as a consortium made up of Texas-based Noble energy, Dutch Shell and Israeli Delek.
Turkey says its claim to a large swath of the Mediterranean is bolstered by an agreement it signed with Libya’s U.N.-recognized government that delineates the two countries’ maritime borders.
Greece, Egypt and Cyprus, which lie between the two geographically, have denounced the deal as being contrary to international law, and Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador last week over the issue.
Cyprus says it’s launching legal action at the International Court of Justice at the Hague against Turkey’s violations of its sovereign rights. In July, Turkey dispatched warship-escorted drill ships to carry out exploratory drilling inside the Cypriot economic zone, including an area where the Eni-Total consortium has drilling rights.
Turkey doesn’t recognize ethnically split Cyprus as a state and claims 44% of its economic zone as its own. It says it’s acting to protect its interests and those of Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus’ breakaway north.
Last year, Turkish warships physically blocked a drill ship leased by Eni to drill an exploratory well in another area where the Italian company is licensed to carry out a gas search southeast of Cyprus.
The Associated Press