Israel and Greek Cyprus gas push disturbs Turkey
NICOSIA / ANKARA
Greek Cypriot President Christofias (L) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon his arrival in Nicosia. AFP photoIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Greek Cyprus yesterday to discuss energy cooperation, right after Cypriots launched a second licensing round for offshore exploratory drilling that received Turkey’s condemnation.
Netanyahu’s visit is the first by an Israeli prime minister to the eastern Mediterranean island. The blossoming of relations between Israel and Greek Cyprus is prompted by a mutual interest in gas and oil exploration and comes as their respective ties with Turkey deteriorate.
Netanyahu’s office said the one-day visit “was designed to strengthen the improving ties between the two nations.” The two sides will discuss cooperation in energy matters, agriculture, health and maritime research and sign a disaster relief and a search and rescue agreement, the office said.
“It’s a natural relationship for us,” Netanyahu said at the start of his meeting with Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias. Greek Cypriot government Spokesman Stefanos Stefanou told the Associated Press beforehand the visit “illustrates the great dynamic driving forward the improvement in relations between the two countries.”
Turkey warns of fresh tensions
The visit came a day after the Greek Cypriot Commerce Ministry announced a second licensing round to search for mineral deposits in 12 of the 13 sections that together make up the island’s 51,000-square-km exclusive economic zone off its southern coast. Yesterday, Turkey denounced the new international tender and warned of a fresh escalation of tensions.
The designated exploration blocks overlap with Turkey’s continental shelf areas in the eastern Mediterranean as well as the concession blocks Turkish Cyprus granted to the Turkish Petroleum Company (TPAO) last September, a Foreign Ministry statement said late Feb. 15.
The announcement shows that the Greek Cypriot side totally disregards the equal rights and legitimate interests of the Turkish Cypriots, the statement said.
“Certain sections of concession blocks – namely the so-called 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th blocks – overlap with Turkey’s continental shelf areas […] The concession blocks identified […] not only violate Turkey’s continental shelf, but also overlap, in the south of the island, with the concession blocks granted to TPAO by Turkish Cyprus on Sept. 22, 2011,” the statement said.
It added that Turkey would not under any circumstances allow foreign oil companies to conduct unauthorized oil or natural gas exploration and would take all necessary measures to protect its rights and interests. The Foreign Ministry warned this situation would bring those international companies that might be interested in bidding for this illegal tender into confrontation with Turkish Cyprus and TPAO.
After receiving Netanyahu, Christofias and the Israeli prime minister held a tête-à-tête meeting.
The two leaders were due to sign an agreement on assistance in the event of natural disasters and regarding search-and-rescue cooperation by air and naval forces. Greek Cypriot newspapers said Netanyahu would have requests from Christofias such as Cypriot permission to use the “Andreas Papandreou” airbase in Paphos, the transfer of natural gas to Greek Cyprus through a pipeline, contribution to an energy terminal that would be built in Greek Cyprus, protection of those pipelines and facilities and acceptance of responsibility for the search and rescue in the region.
Compiled from AA, Reuters and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.