US backs up Greek Cyprus in gas-drilling row

US backs up Greek Cyprus in gas-drilling row

The Greek Cypriot administration’s plans for natural gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean has received a nod from the U.S. administration.

Already convoluted reunification talks on the island now find another layer of sharply differing views over the planned hydrocarbon drilling project. Until now, both the Turkish and Greek sides made clear their respective opposing arguments over the issue. The foreign minister of Turkish Cyprus, Hüseyin Özgürgün, in a statement released this week called the oil and gas plans “unilateral activities’’ of the Greek Cypriot administration “that are against international laws and will inevitably have a negative impact on the ongoing negotiation process by escalating tension. The so-called Cyprus Republic doesn’t have a right to represent and decide for the Cypriot Turks and the island’s sea privileges by itself,’’ he said.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Grigoris Delavekouras, on the other hand criticized the Turkish stance in a statement provided by the Greek Embassy. The Greek side believes the government of Greek Cyprus is the only legal representative of the state and is exercising its sovereign rights and responsibilities within international and maritime law. Greek Cyprus’ foreign minister, Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, is getting ready to initiate an international campaign about Turkish warnings to the European Union and international organizations, as the Cyprus Mail reported.

The U.S. choice not to take a clear stance in the drilling row, despite its deep involvement in the Cyprus reunification talks and the Texas-based Nobel Energy, which holds 100 percent of the unexplored Block 12, an economic zone southeast of the island, puts Americans in the middle of the intense spat.

The Turkish officials, as reported in the Hürriyet Daily News last week, were said to have conveyed their concerns both to U.S. officials and the energy company about the project, although when contacted neither Nobel’s spokesperson nor State Department officials who have knowledge of the issue wanted to comment about what kind of messages or warnings they had received from Turkish officials. Instead, a State Department official who is involved with Turkey-related matters referred to Assistant Secretary Philip Gordon’s press round-table in Cyprus at the beginning of the year. In that, Gordon said the U.S. administration doesn’t see any link between the reunification talks and the exploration plans. On the contrary, Gordon views the U.S. firm’s involvement as ‘’a very positive thing... on the Cyprus issue we know what the significant issues and chapters are, and I don’t think that changes that in a significant way.’’

In a three-point statement I received from the State Department on Wednesday, the U.S. administration states that it is aware of Turkey’s position on the issue, and reiterated its commitment ‘’to support strongly the efforts of both Cypriot parties to reunify the island into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.’’ However, as a final point, the U.S. administration underscored that it views the plans in terms of ‘’securing energy supplies through better energy diversity’’ and that ‘’is something that the United States strongly supports for all countries.’’

Following the harsh statements coming from the Turkish administration, and at a time when the region’s landscape is rapidly changing and Ankara is growing increasingly confident in asserting its own foreign policy terms, one that appears to be closely aligned with Washington in many instances including in Syria, the gas-drilling project appears to have potential to pose some challenge in the relations between Ankara and Washington, in addition to its already jittery relations with Nicosia.

The U.S. perceives the Greek Cypriot drilling plans, which could reportedly “sustain the energy need in Europe for the next 100 years,” in terms of an alternative energy source for its European allies to help gaining energy independence, despite fierce Turkish objections.