Pentagon denies US fleet deployed in Mediterranean to protect ExxonMobil drilling operations
The Pentagon on March 8 denied allegations that the U.S. naval forces were deployed to the eastern Mediterranean to provide protection for the drilling operations of one of America’s largest oil and gas companies.
“There is no truth to the allegation that the U.S. 6th Fleet is in the Eastern Mediterranean to protect ExxonMobil,” Johnny Michael, spokesperson for the United States European Command (EUCOM), said in a written statement sent to state-run Anadolu Agency.
The Pentagon official’s remarks came shortly after some Greek Cypriot media outlets had suggested that the U.S. 6th fleet will accompany an Exxon exploration vessel in its hydrocarbon activities in the disputed areas of the eastern Mediterranean against a potential Turkish military intervention.
“The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group and 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit [MEU] are currently conducting a regularly scheduled deployment to the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations,” Michael said.
He elaborated that the USS Iwo Jima and units from the 26th MEU arrived in Israel on March 6 to participate in the exercise Juniper Cobra, which is a part of a long-standing agreement between EUCOM and the Israeli Defense Forces.
Also mentioning the alleged ship, the Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Oak Hill, Michael noted that the ship and the embarked Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit entered the Black Sea on March 7 to participate in the Romanian-led amphibious exercise to strengthen combined naval capability among the U.S. allies and partners in the region.
Speaking anonymously due to restrictions on talking to the media, another official from the Pentagon also denied the allegations, saying that the deployment of the ships took place as a part of a regular scheduled deployment.
Turkish security sources had already dismissed the reports and told state-run Anadolu Agency that Greece and Greek Cyprus had tried to deceive the public by making such allegations.
Tension running high in eastern Mediterranean
Tension between Turkey, Greek Cyprus and Greece has been rising in recent months after Nicosia unilaterally accelerated its hydrocarbon activities around the island of Cyprus.
It was reported that the Turkish naval forces blocked an exploration vessel of Italian energy company ENI off the southeastern coasts of the island, known as block three.
Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots say this block is part of the economic zone of the northern part of the island.
On March 7, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım reiterated Turkey’s stance that unilateral activities around Cyprus for hydrocarbons will not be tolerated.
“Neither Turkey nor Northern Cyprus would accept any unilateral initiatives regarding the natural resources around the island,” Yıldırım said at a press conference in Ankara following a meeting with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Tufan Erhürman.
Yıldırım underlined that people from both sides of the disputed island should be involved in any activities regarding the extraction of underground resources off Cyprus.
“We consider any work which both parties do not agree to a threat as well as an attempt to breach the sovereign rights of Northern Cyprus,” said the Turkish prime minister.
Also on March 7, Turkish Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın stated that the United States’ 6th fleet has not yet arrived off Cyprus.
“We are also reading such news [from the press]. But we have no information that the deployment of the 6th fleet [off Cyprus] has been realized,” Kalın told reporters.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island’s Turks, and Ankara’s military intervention as a guarantor power.
It has seen an on-and-off peace process in recent years, including the collapse of a 2017 initiative in Switzerland under the auspices of guarantor countries Turkey, Greece, and Britain.