Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, making good on earlier threats, has signed an agreement with Dervis Eroglu, president of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), to explore for oil and natural gas offshore in the eastern Mediterranean.
“This agreement we signed today with the Republic of Turkey is a precautionary measure to make our Greek counterparts desist,” Eroglu said, referring to the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus.
Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to what it saw as an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia aimed at union with Greece.
Turkey has repeatedly called on Cyprus to postpone its exploration for oil and gas, saying that the Greek side has no right to undertake a unilateral search for sources of energy while the island remains divided.
Under the continental shelf limitation agreement signed with the TRNC, Turkey may also explore energy sources off the island’s southern coast—a decision that would likely create further conflict with the Greek Cypriots.
The agreement was clearly undertaken in response to the agreement between Nicosia and Noble Energy Inc., which already has started exploratory drilling for gas on Block 12 off the southern coast of the island—a location close to Noble’s Leviathan discovery in Israeli waters.
Erdogan described as “madness” the offshore gas drilling by Israel and Cyprus, raising the stakes in a confrontation over the potentially huge deposits in the eastern Mediterranean.
“The Greek Cypriot administration and Israel are engaging in oil exploration madness in the Mediterranean,” Erdogan said, adding that Nicosia’s drilling activity is “nothing but sabotage of the negotiation process between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots.”
In an effort to dissuade international oil companies from working with Nicosia, Erdogan said that Turkey’s energy ministry will apply “sanctions” and bar companies working with Nicosia from working in Turkey.
Turkish assault boats and frigates “are already in the region,” said Erdogan, repeating earlier warnings that Turkey would carry out energy surveys of its own under escort of warships if Cyprus pressed ahead with its drilling campaign.
The announcement of the agreement between Turkey and the TRNC coincided with reports that a Norwegian vessel is en route to Turkey, with the aim of conducting seismic surveys in the region.
“The ship is on its way. It has set sail from Norway,” an official of Turkey’s energy ministry told state media.
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