Turkey Is Behaving Like a Regional 'Bully,' Cyprus FM Says

Speaking to Haaretz during an official U.S. visit, Dr. Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis estimates Ankara will not initiate military action over a contentious gas exploration project in the eastern Mediterranean.

In an interview with Haaretz on Wednesday, Cyprus' Foreign Minister Dr. Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis insisted that a recent boon in relations with Israel should not be credited solely to deteriorating ties between Israel and Turkey.

"It's not that it has been an opportunity to fill the vacuum that was created as a result of severing the Turkey relations with Israel - with Israel we always had good relations, even when your ties with Turkey were very strong", Kozakou-Marcoullis told Haaretz during her official visit to Washington.

"It has always been very important relations - we saw it strategically important to increase them, and we are getting closer and closer. And now, of course, we have this common project in our neighborhood - the natural gas," she added.

Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis - AP - 22.11.2011

However, it was clear that Cyprus, who is embroiled in its own tensions with Turkey, ones increased by a recent Cypriot gas exploration project, was in agreement with the Israeli view concerning the negative effects of Ankara's foreign policy in the region.

Speaking on Tuesday in a speech in Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Kozakou-Marcoullis called Turkey the "neighborhood bully," adding that "a Turkey whose Foreign Minister promoted a policy of 'zero problems' with its neighbors, is now asserting a policy of 'only problems.'"

"The tensions with Israel were just the beginning of a concerted effort by Ankara to delegitimize others in order to legitimize its actions", the Cypriot FM said, criticizing what she said was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hypocrisy in his criticism of Israel.

"Mr. Erdogan sees no contradiction in pontificating from the UN General Assembly podium on the failure of Israel to abide by UN resolutions, while Turkey is in violation of numerous mandatory UN Security Council resolutions in Cyprus," she said, adding that, "unfortunately, the bottom line is that Turkey cares very little about the Turkish Cypriots and a great deal about its own selfish interests."

In her conversation with Haaretz, Kozakou-Marcoullis said Cyprus was "following the situation very closely, and the new attitude of Turkey to Israel is very regrettable. It's a source of concern for us as well."

"It could be short term, but taking into account the changes in the area, one would suspect it's the long-term attitude of Turkey, getting closer to the Arab-Muslim countries. I think it's not in the interest of Turkey to go along this path," she added.

Kozakou-Marcoullis also referred to Turkish threats to stop Cyprus gas exploration bid in the eastern Mediterranean, saying that Turkey "launched threats to stop this project, then they started increasing their naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean, busy with illegal seismic surveying and seabed mapping, carried out by ships on behalf of Turkey inside our Exclusive Economic Zone in blatant violation of our sovereign rights."

"Now they have naval exercises, and at some point we had near incidents with a helicopter that was transporting personnel and materials to the rig. There was another incident with frigate that came within 2 nautical miles from the rig," she added.

The Cypriot FM estimated that the Turkish threats were meant to "discourage companies from engaging in any activities in our exclusive economic zone, and also to discourage companies from cooperating with Israel and Cyprus in this operation."

"But I don't think they succeeded so far - the indications we have is there is a lot of interest from number of companies in Europe, U.S., Russia, even Brazil. Of course, we protested these illegal activities to our partners in the international community, and we are very satisfied that at least on the part of the EU there was a strong reaction and condemnation regarding these threats," she added.

In several months, Cyprus expects to see the results of the exploration done by the American company about the quantity and quality of the natural gas - but Dr. Kozakou-Marcoullis says she doesn't know what will be Turkey's reaction when the actual drilling starts.

"I don't know really what to expect, but definitely it couldn't be an interest of Turkey to increase these provocation to the extent they actually use force," the top Cypriot diplomat said, adding: "I don't think they'd go to that extent, because that would be the end of many things for Turkey."

"Definitely a country that uses force against the member of the European Union - that would put an end to Turkey's EU accession process. Even these illegal activities they are conducting now, these are issues of grave concern in the European Union, the fact that they are engaging in hostile actions against Cyprus - and even against Israel. Any further negative development will have consequences for them," she added.

When asked whether U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her assurances of American support if matters escalate with Turkey, Kozakou-Marcoullis said: "I did not get any assurances that the U.S. would intervene militarily, and it's not something I was seeking to know."

"But definitely I got assurances that they are talking to Turkey on all levels, and that the messages sent to Turkey by this administration are very clear and strong. It is with great disappointment that we have come to witness a new hostile face of Turkey during the past months," she added.

Speaking of the stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, Kozakou-Marcoullis said Cyprus was "very supportive of the Quartet decision back in September, and we have encouraged the Israelis to freeze settlements, because that would be really very supportive of the start of the negotiations."

"As EU, we've taken very strong stand against settlement policy of Israel, and also taken a very strong stand on freezing of settlements at this particular point, because it's important to relaunch the negotiations and follow the time frame of the Quartet and give it another chance," she said, adding that she hoped "Israel makes these important decisions - at least what we can do is to encourage our friends in Israel to take these difficult, but very much needed decisions. Whether there will be progress - no one will know until it starts. And the EU will give sides all the support they need in the process."