The United States is urging Turkey to stop drilling in contested waters of the Mediterranean Sea out of concern the move will hurt diplomatic relations with Greece. Tension is rising among the NATO neighbors and others in the region trying to control energy-rich zones.
The warning from U.S. Under Secretary of State Matthew Palmer marks Washington's strongest diplomatic intervention yet in a long-running energy feud between Greece and Turkey.
“The United States remains deeply concerned by drilling activities in waters off Cyprus," said Palmer. "The actions raise tensions in the region and we again urge Turkish authorities to halt all drilling operations off Cyprus.”
Palmer’s warning, at an international conference in Greece, follows threats by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to proceed with the drilling, including plans to send a new exploratory vessel well within Greece's territorial waters, off the coast of the Greek islands.
No specific location has been revealed but Turkey has been threatening to drill since Erdogan signed a maritime agreement with Libya, allowing Ankara to explore for natural gas and oil and exploit hundreds of kilometers of Mediterranean seabed from its southeast coast to northern Libya.
With Greek islands in between, Turkey maintains that the deal also gives it the right to survey Greek waters. Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Greece, says that reading is wrong.
“It is unhelpful and provocative in any term but most importantly it can take no rights away from Greece," said Pyatt.
Tensions, though, continue to escalate between Greece and Turkey.
In recent days, the leaders of the two countries have challenged each other's sovereign rights, saying they are prepared to go to war to defend themselves.
Palmer is advising both sides to pull back from any semblance of confrontation.
“As an ally, the U.S. is concerned that the increasing tensions between Greece and Turkey could result in an incident or accident that leads to unintended consequences," said Palmer. "In the past we have seen incidents in the regions escalate quickly. We urge Greece and Turkey to ensure that the channels of communication remain open between these two NATO allies.”
Greece and Turkey have had no diplomatic contact on the issue so far.