Members of US Congress urge Tillerson to take strong stance on Turkish threats against Cypriot EEZ

Thirty six members of the U.S. House of Representatives in a letter they cosign, encourage U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to continue the active engagement by the State Department in the Eastern Mediterranean, and in particular to urge a strong stance against rhetoric and provocations that threaten the spirit of cooperation and progress that has emerged in the region in recent years.

The letter addresses the Turkish threats against the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as on July 13 Total has scheduled an exploratory drilling.

This letter is the latest product of the partnership between the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC). HALC and AJC worked with the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance (CHIA) caucus and its two chairmen – Gus Bilirakis and Ted Deutch – launched the letter in time for the back to back conferences of the AJC and PSEKA.

The AJC made this letter part of the advocacy program of the Global Forum, where they were joined by members of HALC in lobbying members of Congress. Greek American leaders then raised the issue during the 33rd PSEKA Conference in Washington (June -6-8) urging members of Congress and U.S. officials to send a clear warning to Ankara.”

Amongst the cosigners of the letter are the Chairman and Minority Ranking members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce and Eliot Engel.

The letter to U.S. Secretary Rex Tillerson is signed by the following 36 members of the U.S. House of Representatives:

Theodore E. Deutch, Gus M. Bilirakis, Edward R. Royce, Eliot L. Engel, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Nita M. Lowey, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Dina Titus, Lee M. Zeldin, Robin L. Kelly, Matt Gaetz, Carolyn B. Maloney, Lois Frankel, Jerrold Nadler, Mike Quigley, John P. Sarbanes, Albio Sires, Randy K. Weber, Sr., Bradley S. Schneider, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Ted Poe, Brad Sherman, Daniel W. Lipinski, Zoe Lofgren, James F. Sensenbrenner, Jr., David N. Cicilline, Frank Pallone, Jr., Danny K. Davis, Josh Gottheimer, Mario Diaz-Balart, Matt Cartwright, Janice D. Schakowsky, John Shimkus, Mike Bost, Carlos Curbelo and Charlie Crist..

In their letter they state “We are writing to encourage continued active engagement by the State Department in the Eastern Mediterranean, and in particular to urge a strong stance against rhetoric and provocations that threaten the spirit of cooperation and progress that has emerged in the region in recent years”.

“The burgeoning ties between Cyprus, Greece and Israel should be of particular importance to the United States. Beyond sharing democratic values, the three countries are increasingly collaborating in energy, counterterrorism, and tourism�fields that can contribute to European energy independence, promote economic stability in southern Europe and the Middle East, and help counter regional extremism and terrorism” they add.

They noted that Israel’s partnerships with Greece and Cyprus ensure the security of Israel’s Mediterranean border. “Israel’s strategic depth has always been a challenge, even more so now while the region is experiencing deteriorating security. Greece and Cyprus allow the Israeli Air Force to conduct exercises over their territory. The three countries exchange intelligence and have conducted search and rescue missions together. Greece and Cyprus are only the second and third countries, after the U.S., with which Israel has signed a ‘status of forces agreement.'”.

Futhermore, they note that cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean has the power to create partnerships where there was once conflict.

‘Energy collaboration has facilitated and furthered important regional conversations. Consistent high-level contacts and trilateral summits involve other regional stakeholders including the EU, Italy, Egypt and Lebanon, providing opportunities for diplomatic engagement between these nations�engagement that otherwise might not occur’ they say.

‘Further, these new energy sources promise to allow key U.S. allies and partners to decrease their energy dependence on suppliers like Russia and Iran’.

It is vital, they note, ‘ that the State Department continue active engagement in the region�not just for the benefit of the U.S and Israel�but because the cooperation facilitated by natural gas finds is not without challenges. Turkey, which stands to benefit greatly from energy exploration, repeatedly violates Greece’s air and sea territory and has issued numerous threats against the continued exploration in and exploitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Republic of Cyprus. Cyprus’s EEZ is safeguarded under international law and has been consistently supported by the United States government. There is also a long-standing dispute over which nation controls a maritime area off the coast of the Israel-Lebanon border’.

‘With so much progress and potential at stake, we urge you to publicly reaffirm the commitment of the United States to support energy exploration and exploitation in the Eastern Mediterranean in a manner consistent with long-standing U.S. policy. Further, we look forward to the ongoing engagement of the State Department in facilitating and supporting diplomatic, military and economic cooperation among allies in the region’, they conclude.

Source: Cyprus News Agency