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U.S. says Turkey violated international law, NATO commitments in Mediterranean

Turkey broke international law and its NATO commitments in the eastern Mediterranean during a dispute with Greece last year over territory, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Bilateral disputes should be settled peacefully and diplomatically, “not militarily and certainly not through provocative actions,” Blinken told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, the Greek City Times reported.

“We have criticised actions, including by Turkey, which violate international law and its NATO commitments, including its provocative actions against Greece and its airspace violations,” Blinken said.

The United States welcomes the resumption of diplomatic contacts between Athens and Ankara to resolve their differences, he said.

NATO members and neighbours Turkey and Greece are set to hold a second round of exploratory talks on March 16-17 in Athens after holding initial discussions in Istanbul in January. The meetings precede a European Union summit in late March, where EU leaders are set to consider imposing further sanctions on Turkey for exploring for hydrocarbons in disputed Mediterranean waters.

Turkish and Greek diplomats met in Istanbul on Jan. 25 for a first round of discussions since contacts between the two countries were suspended in 2016. They did not disclose the agenda of the talks or their outcome.

Turkey’s re-engagement with the European Union and others in a more productive way has helped to ease tensions, Blinken said.

Blinken said the United States has observed the situation in the eastern Mediterranean with concern. Washington must play an active role in helping to encourage stability there, he said.

The European Union imposed sanctions on individuals involved in Turkey’s drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean in December, but stopped short of targeting the Turkish economy or the country’s leadership directly.

Blinken also said Washington would lend support to a lasting solution on the Cyprus issue under a bi-zonal and a bi-communal federation.

“We will engage in the effort to advance that prospect, including supporting the critical role of the United Nations, and as well, direct American engagement in that effort,” he said. “You’ll see American diplomacy fully engaged.”

The United Nations will hold an informal meeting between representatives of the Republic of Cyprus and a Turkish Cypriot enclave in the north of the island in Geneva, Switzerland on April 27-29.

The five-party talks will also include the island’s three guarantor countries, Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom. The discussions are aimed at deciding whether there is common ground between the parties to proceed to negotiations to reunify the island, divided along ethnic lines since a Turkish invasion in 1974.

Turkey and the self-styled Turkish Cypriot government, which is only recognised by Turkey, have dropped their support for a UN-mandated federal solution to reunite the island. Instead, they say the island’s future can only be resolved by establishing two independent states.

The European Union is expected to participate in the meetings as an observer.