NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — France’s defense minister said Tuesday that her country stands in solidarity with Cyprus amid tensions over a Turkish search for natural gas inside Cypriot waters.
Florence Parly said France supports Cyprus, which finds itself under “strong pressure.”
“France is a friend of Cyprus,” Parly told The Associated Press after talks with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades. “And we also express our solidarity regarding, for instance, what’s going on in the EEZ” — Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.
Turkey has sent warship-escorted vessels to drill for gas in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights, including areas where the Cypriot government has licensed energy companies Total of France and Italy’s Eni to carry out exploratory drilling.
European Union member Cyprus has denounced Turkey’s actions as a flagrant violation of its sovereign rights and of international law. The EU has also rebuked Turkey over the drilling.
Turkey, which doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state, says it’s acting to protect its rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots.
Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence that came after a 1974 Turkish invasion of the island following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 but only the south — where the internationally recognized government is seated — enjoys full membership benefits.
Parly said France is grateful for Cyprus’ assistance in French naval operations in the region by allowing French ships to resupply at Cypriot ports.
The French defense minister said she would visit the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle that’s sailing off Cyprus to conduct air strikes against Islamic State group targets in the region.
Cypriot deputy government spokesman Panayiotis Sentonas said Parly discussed with the Cypriot president ways of bolstering bilateral cooperation, especially in the defense sector.
Cyprus said earlier this month that it has signed 240 million euros’ ($260 million) worth of contracts with French companies to upgrade weapons systems.
A Cypriot official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to discuss military matters, said France is looking to station warplanes at an airbase on Cyprus’ southwestern coast.