Turkey opposition to Greek Cyprus gas exploration harms peace talks: Minister

Turkey opposition to Greek Cyprus gas exploration harms peace talks: Minister

NICOSIA - Reuters
Turkey opposition to Greek Cyprus gas exploration harms peace talks: Minister

Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides speaks to the media on Oct. 6. AP Photo

Greek Cyprus has said peace talks for the ethnically divided island could suffer if Turkey kept on opposing attempts by Nicosia to explore for gas off its southern coast.

The Greek Cypriot government has licensed multinationals to explore for hydrocarbons in the area and Italy’s ENI currently has a platform drill at one site.

Turkey has expressed its concern over Greek Cyprus’ “one-sided” off-shore hydrocarbon searches, after the Turkish government of northern Cyprus announced that a new ship had begun unilateral exploration in its “so-called exclusive economic zone.”

Greek Cypriot officials said Ankara had issued a maritime advisory that a Turkish seismic vessel would be carrying out work in the same area as ENI’s platform from Oct. 20.

Turkey, which backs a breakaway Turkish Cypriot enclave in northern Cyprus, does not recognize the jurisdiction of the Nicosia government in the exploration area.

“We consider this development particularly serious,” Greek Cypriot foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides told a news conference in Nicosia.

Northern Cyprus had announced on Oct. 3 that a Bahama-registered ship, SAIPEM 10000, began hydrocarbon exploration in Block 9, in an area southeast of the island that Greek Cypriots have declared an exclusive economic zone unilaterally.

The area where ENI is carrying out the drill falls within Greek Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, an area internationally recognized, except by Turkey, as being Cypriot waters, he said.

Greek Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has become particularly keen to develop offshore gas reserves as a potential source of revenue since it was compelled to seek an international financial bailout in early 2013.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has previously said challenges to the gas drills could trigger an interruption in the peace talks for the island.

Kasoulides said diplomatic and legal responses were being considered, but he declined to give details.
Inconclusive peace talks to unify divided island have been held intermittently over the decades and a new round of consultations started in February 2014.

Asked if there was a risk of the peace talks being derailed, Kasoulides said: “What I can say is that for talks to yield results they cannot be conducted under such provocative circumstances.”

Kasoulides stressed that the Greek Cypriots were committed to seeing the talks progress.

A U.S. company, Noble, found an estimated 5 trillion cubic meters of gas south of Cyprus in late 2011, straddling a median line with Israel where major discoveries have been made in the past decade.

France’s Total has also signed a concession to drill for gas with Cyprus.

Greek Cypriots say any hydrocarbon wealth discovered will be shared with the Turkish Cypriots in the event of a peace deal.