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TURKEY tr-diplomacy

Turkey, Lebanon angle for Cyprus' offshore energy resources

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 10/22/2010 12:00:00 AM | FULYA ÖZERKAN

As Lebanon and Greek Cyprus finalize an agreement for oil and gas exploration, Turkey has begun weighing its own options for energy development.

As Lebanon and Greek Cyprus put the final touches on an agreement for oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has begun weighing its own options for energy development off northern Cyprus.

Diplomats denied, however, that the countries were engaged in a “showdown” over the region’s resources.

“We have our own views on the issue of exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. First of all, Greek Cyprus does not represent the entire island and it cannot strike deals that concern the interests of the whole island,” a Turkish diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “That’s an attitude we have often shared with our Lebanese friends and I think they will take this into consideration.”

In a visit to Greek Cyprus on Thursday, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said his country was finalizing an agreement for energy exploration in the region, Lebanese media reported. Hariri also announced plans to include Syria in the economic zone, saying this would help all three countries benefit from gas and oil deposits in the Mediterranean.

The news about the agreement came as Turkey carries out its own studies on how to proceed with gas and oil exploration off the northern coast of Cyprus.

“This is not a showdown. Our relationship with the north of the island is obvious,” a Turkish diplomat told the Daily News, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We also want Greek Cyprus to reunify with the north and act in a fashion that will protect the rights of the island’s two communities, but at the current stage, we believe it is not correct for Greek Cyprus to forge a long-term engagement regarding the sharing of the island’s natural resources while there is no comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem.”

Cyprus has been divided between north and south since 1974, when Turkey intervened in response to an Athens-backed coup seeking to unite the island with Greece.

The seabed splitting Lebanon and Greek Cyprus is believed to hold significant reserves of oil and natural gas. The two countries signed an exclusive zone agreement in January 2007 to demarcate an undersea border in order to designate where each country could carry out exploration activities once energy resources are discovered. Ankara disapproved of that deal, with the Foreign Ministry saying in a written statement at the time that Turkey was “determined to protect its rights and interests in the eastern Mediterranean” and would “not allow attempts to erode them.”

Following Hariri’s statement, however, officials downplayed the potential for conflict over the Lebanon-Greek Cyprus agreement.

“Lebanon is a sovereign state and can meet with any country as it wishes, but we’ll continue to convey our views and attitudes in a fashion that protects the entire island and the rights of the Turkish Cypriots,” Turkish Ambassador to Beirut İnan Özyıldız told the Daily News on Friday. “Lebanon is a friendly country, and we don’t believe it would act against Turkey.”

Turkey is closely following the matter and will seek information from and share its opinions with Lebanon, Özyıldız said. The two countries enjoy friendly ties, signing a visa-free travel agreement during Hariri’s visit to Turkey in January.

The exploration agreement needs to be ratified by the Lebanese parliament, which Hariri said would receive the law once a deal is reached with Damascus. Turkish diplomatic sources said, however, that they did not expect to see immediate ratification of the agreement.

“At the moment there is no reason to hurry. The agreement needs to pass [the Lebanese] parliament. If we consider the current political situation in Lebanon, we don’t believe there is an urgent situation, but we are continuing to closely follow it,” one source said, adding that the deal might be rejected or end up a low priority on the parliamentary agenda.

Greek Cyprus has signed a similar exploration agreement with Egypt and last month it signed a memorandum of cooperation with Israel for surveying and mapping in joint research energy projects.

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