NICOSIA – Cyprus said it won’t give up a search for oil and gas off its shores despite a call to stop by Turkey which warned that it would “take all necessary measures to protect its interests” in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots.
Cyprus’ government said it’s regrettable that Turkey is resorting to “threats” to advance its own interests under the guise of concern for the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
“The Republic of Cyprus will resolutely continue its policy in the field of hydrocarbons, in full respect of international and European law,” the Cyprus government said in a statement.
Cyprus’ Deputy Government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said, “The ways with which Turkish Cypriots would also be secured as regards findings in the Cypriot EEZ (exclusive economic zone), provided the Cyprus problem is solved,” the Cyprus Mail reported.
He added that, “If Turkey cares about the Turkish Cypriots it would do well to agree at the negotiating table and solve the Cyprus problem so that Turkish Cypriots, who are also victims of the Turkish invasion, enjoy what they are entitled to.”
The Turkish government said it expects Greek Cypriots to cease their gas search and to stop acting as if they’re the sole owners of the ethnically divided island’s natural resources.
It also implied that a continued search for gas could further jeopardize stalled talks aimed at reunifying the island as a federation.
Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci had walked away from talks in protest of the Cypriot Parliament passing a measure approving an annual commemoration of a 1950 referendum seeking unity, or Enosis, with Greece and wanted Turkey to be allowed to keep a standing army on the island the right to military intervene, as it did in an unlawful 1974 occupation of the northern third it still controls.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier had sent in a warship and energy research vessel to patrol Cyprus’ sovereign waters and dog international firms licensed to look for oil and gas and as he demanded Turkey have rights to any potentially lucrative finds.
Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state and insists any “unilateral” Greek Cypriot gas search flouts the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the island’s mineral wealth.
Cyprus said it’s acting in line with international law which Turkey and is proceeding with the oil and gas exploration as the lawful custodian of the island’s natural resources. It said it’s been agreed as part of peace talks that Turkish Cypriots will benefit from any oil and gas proceeds if island is reunified.
Major oil and gas companies including Italy’s Eni, France’s Total and ExxonMobil have won licenses to carry out exploratory drilling in eight areas, or blocks, off Cyprus’ southern coast.
Cypriot Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said that Eni, in partnership with Total, will drill in one block later this year. Eni is planning another two drilling attempts in other blocks also within 2017, Lakkotrypis added.
In earlier drilling, Texas-based Noble Energy discovered a field off Cyprus estimated to contain over 4 trillion cubic feet in reserves.
Turkey’s latest outburst followed a meeting in New York between President Nicos Anastasiades and representatives of ExxonMobil.
Turkish foreign ministry spokesman, Huseyin Muftuoglu, said this demonstrated “yet again how the Greek Cypriot administration disregards the inalienable rights on natural resources of the Turkish Cypriot people, the co-owners of the island”.
“This attitude shows that the Greek Cypriot administration is still not able to grasp the win-win-based potential for economic cooperation that can ensure on the island and in the Eastern Mediterranean from a comprehensive settlement, towards which the Turkish Cypriot side and Turkey have been expending intensive efforts,” Muftuoglu said.
Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides described the Turkish stance as totally unacceptable, The Mail added.
“Turkey shouldn’t turn around tomorrow and seek cheap excuses, like the January 1950 Enosis (union with Greece) referendum, when it inflames and undermines the peaceful climate in which dialogue can take place,” Kasoulides said.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)