Turkey: The Gas War (of Words) With Cyprus Heats Up

In the wake of Israel's recent find of massive amount of offshore natural gas in its little patch of eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus (the Greek side, that is) is hoping that it too is sitting on top of large energy reserves. The Cypriot government has given the green light to an American energy company to start exploring for gas in the island's waters later this year, but there is one major problem that stands in the way of Cyprus's plans: Turkey. From a report by the energy analysis firm Platt's:

There is still one stumbling block to Cyprus becoming a gas power though--namely its uneasy relations with Turkey. Israel and Cyprus have reached agreement on their maritime borders and each has accepted the other's exclusive economic zone. But Turkey, which occupies the northern part of Cyprus, has said it does not accept the agreement.

The Turkish government claims any agreements concluded by Cyprus are void unless and until the island is reunited and both the Greek and Turkish communities are represented.

Turkey has termed the offshore gas exploration activities "unlawful and in violation of international law" and as the planned date of drilling approaches, Ankara has stepped up its campaign. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned that Ankara would "take appropriate measures" if Greek Cypriots went ahead with drilling plans.

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported that the country's embassy in Washington is planning to convey Ankara's reservations regarding Noble's plans to begin drilling to the US government.

And the Turkish foreign ministry warned that agreements and exploration activities in the southern Mediterranean "would negatively affect the settlement of the Cyprus question and lead to new conflicts among the countries in the region."

Hurriyet, meanwhile, has a bit more about Ankara's diplomatic efforts to stymie the Greek Cypriots' gas exploration plans. From an article posted today on the paper's English-language website:

Turkey has been urging the U.S. administration to postpone the date of natural gas exploration activities of a U.S firm off the coast of Cyprus until the island is reunified because the Greek Cypriot exploitation of the island’s common natural resources could entirely sap the southern territory’s desire for a solution, an official from the Turkish Foreign Ministry told the Hürriyet Daily News on Sunday.

Ankara is urging Washington “not to sacrifice the political reunification process of Cyprus for trade,” according to an official.

“We told the U.S. officials that the unilateral oil and natural gas exploration activities by the Greek Cypriots were against international law and could lead to the end of the ongoing negotiation process for Cyprus unification,” the official said.

Turkey has already conveyed its reservations to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and to the U.S. State Department in Washington and will bring the issue to the attention of higher-level U.S. officials, he said. Turkey plans to convey its concerns to the members of the U.N. Security Council.

As mentioned in this previous post, despite some recent hope that there could be some progress in the stalled talks to reunify Cyprus, a mid-July visit to the island's northern part by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which he said that the "time for concessions" has passed, put that hope to rest. With the gas issue now thrown into the equation, a resolution to the Cyprus issue now appears to be even more distant.

Turkey: The Gas War (of Words) With Cyprus Heats Up

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