EU reprimands Turkey over threats to drilling offshore Cyprus

The European Union urged Turkey to refrain from continuing to make threats in a dispute with the Republic of Cyprus over offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling in the East Mediterranean basin.

"We urge Turkey to refrain from any kind of threat or sources of friction or action which could negatively affect the good neighborly relations and the peaceful settlement of border disputes," said a spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief.

The statement followed remarks made by Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz: “The drilling work which the Greek Cypriots will conduct in the eastern Mediterranean is a provocation. We want the Greek Cypriots to halt immediately the work with Noble."

To underline his country’s position, Yildiz threatened that his country might begin its own exploratory efforts off the Mediterranean island, even using naval vessels to escort seismic ships into the area.

"We can say that Turkish naval ships may escort Turkish seismic survey ships doing exploration in the Mediterranean Sea. Oil exploration platforms would follow but we don't want it to come to that," Yildiz said.

Cyprus’ Energy Service director Solon Kassinis confirmed that Noble Energy had begun drilling on Sept. 19, and that the process would take up to 73 days for completion. “It's preparatory work, yes, but the procedure for drilling has started," Kassinis said.

The Cypriot decision to proceed with drilling was confirmed over the weekend by Cyprus President Demetris, who said, “We will continue to exercise our evident sovereign rights, which includes exploiting natural resources, always within the parameters of international law.”

Cyprus, represented in the EU by its internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government, has commissioned Noble to drill for hydrocarbons on Block 12, which lies close to the firm’s Leviathan discovery in nearby Israeli waters.

Turkey has long called on the Cypriot government to postpone any offshore exploration for oil and gas, saying the Greek side has no right to do so while the island remains split, thus leaving the Turkish north out of the picture.

Cyprus has been divided along Greek and Turkish ethnic lines since Ankara’s troops invaded in 1974 and occupied its northern third. Turkey alone recognizes the northern regime, while the international community recognizes the legitimacy only of the southern government.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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