The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has advanced a bipartisan bill that updates the U.S. strategy in the eastern Mediterranean and requires the State Department to monitor Turkish violations in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Greek daily Kathimerini reported on Wednesday.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the bill sponsored by Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the committee, and Republican Marco Rubio, as tensions rise in the region with Turkey sending a second drillship to the seas off Cyprus and the European Union considering sanctions on Turkey for its drilling activity.
The bill for the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Partnership Act was adopted by a large majority of the committee, with objections by Jeff Merkley and Ed Mark being related to environmental factors rather than the geopolitical content of the law, Kathimerini said. Congress must approve the bill for it to become law.
“Israel, Greece, and Cyprus are key partners of the United States, and today’s vote confirms that we need a new strategy that reflects our mutual interests,” Menendez said after the vote.
“The East Med Act is a huge leap forward in U.S. relations with both Greece and Cyprus. It places Greece in the center of a new American strategy for the eastern Mediterranean, and it stops the treatment of Cyprus as merely a problem, but positions it as a solution,” Cyprus mail quoted Tasos Zambas, chairman of the Justice for Cyprus Committee for the Federation of Cypriot-American Associations, as saying.
“The controversial legislation, which spurns Turkey’s sovereign rights to resources in the region, could further escalate tension between Washington and Ankara at a time when Turkish officials have already said they will not allow unilateral and arbitrary activities in its region,” Turkey’s state-run Anadolu agency said in response to the act.
The bill seeks to lift a ban on arms sales to Cyprus, authorize the establishment of a United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center to facilitate energy cooperation between the United States, Israel, Greece and Cyprus, and grant foreign military financing assistance and training to Cyprus and Greece.
The bill also proposes halting the delivery of F-35 stealth fighter jets to Turkey, if Ankara goes ahead with the plans to purchase Russian S-400 missile systems.
The bipartisan bill also requires the U.S. administration to submit to Congress a strategy on enhanced security and energy cooperation with countries in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as reports on malign activities by Russia and other countries in the region.
A technical amendment to the original bill creates a separate chapter for Turkish violations of the Cypriot EEZ and the obligation of the secretaries of state and defense to submit reports to Congress.
A similar bipartisan bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Ted Deutch, David Cicilline and Gus Bilirakis.
Turkey, the only country to recognize the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of the island, says Turkish Cypriots should also have a say in gas exploration and a share of any revenues. Turkey also has territorial claims overlapping with Cyprus’s EEZ.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday that Turkey would continue taking steps until an agreement was reached over revenues from hydrocarbon resources in the region.
“The prime minister of Greece has been talking on his own, but regardless of what he says, we have rights there,” Erdoğan said.
“The Greek prime minister is not talking on his own as he has the European Union on his side, all its member states, the large majority of the international community and all countries in each corner of the planet and especially in our own region that respect international law and the law of the sea,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in response.
“The sense in (Greek) diplomatic circles is that Erdoğan’s intention is to create faits accomplis in the eastern Mediterranean which will make it very difficult for Athens and Nicosia to reverse. And his remark that “we have four ships in the area and we have taken measures” is viewed in this context,” Kathimerini said.
Kathimerini reported on Wednesday that Greece’s National Council for Foreign Policy had convened to discuss Turkey.