Cyprus claims international backing for offshore exploration

The international community has afforded Cyprus political protection to explore for oil and natural gas inside its exclusive economic zone, which is near to large gas finds in Israeli waters.

"At this moment, we have a very satisfactory shield of political support over these actions," said Cyprus’ Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, adding that the support comes despite Turkey's strong opposition.

Kozakou-Marcoullis said a rig belonging to Houston-based Noble Energy Inc. arrived in the area where exploratory drilling is to begin soon, without any interference from Turkish warships in the region.

"We are asking for these proactive steps and I believe these proactive steps have been taken to a great degree," she said, referring to a briefing of the United Nations Security Council and the European Union by Cypriot officials.

Turkey has voiced opposition to exploratory efforts off Cyprus, which was divided into a Turkish-speaking north and a Greek-speaking south in 1974 following Ankara’s invasion of the island.

Cyprus is a member of the EU, but Turkey, which still does not even recognize Cyprus as a sovereign country, opposes any oil and gas exploration led by the Greek-speaking government based in Nicosia.

Ankara insists that Turkish Cypriots should benefit from any financial gain that comes from discoveries of oil and gas, while Nicosia says such benefits will follow once a peace agreement has been reached between the two sides.

Lisa Buttenheim, head of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, said any discoveries would be for the benefit of both sides under the framework of a federal united Cyprus.

"The [UN] would appeal to all involved to resolve this matter in a peaceful manner and look beyond the issues to the potential benefits that a united Cyprus can bring to Cypriots and to the region," Buttenheim said.

Meanwhile, tensions in the region rose after Greece protested a decision by Turkey to send a Norwegian research vessel to search for oil and gas south off the island of Kastellorizo.

The Greek foreign ministry said Turkey had contracted the Bergen Surveyor, and had earmarked an area that includes waters near Kastellorizo for exploration from Sept. 15 to Nov. 15.

“The Greek embassy in Ankara has been instructed to make a demarche to the Turkish foreign ministry, requesting abstention from any exploratory activity that compromises Greek sovereign rights in the area," the Greek foreign ministry said.

Kastellorizo is part of an isolated group of small islands east of Rhodes, just 3 km off Turkey's southern coastal town of Kas, one of many islands near Turkey that are ruled by Greece on the basis of post-World War II treaties.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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