Turkey to Monitor Cyprus’ Offshore Drilling in Mediterranean

Posted September 19th, 2011 at 4:08 pm (UTC-5)
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Turkey has promised to begin offshore oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean as soon as this week, after Cyprus ignored Turkish warnings and started drilling.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that the Turkish military would use frigates, aircraft and torpedo boats to constantly monitor developments in the eastern Mediterranean. Earlier, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz warned that naval vessels would escort his country's oil and gas exploration activities.

His comments came after Cypriot energy chief Solon Kassinis said U.S. firm Noble Energy had started drilling inside the island's exclusive economic zone south of the island, close to Israeli waters. Cyprus has commissioned Noble Energy for the project, which has been operating in the area off Israel's coast since 1998.

Turkey's government does not recognize Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974 between a Turkish-controlled north and a Greek Cypriot south.

The Greek Cypriot government announced last month it was planning to begin exploration of oil and gas reserves off the island's coast. Turkey questions the Cypriot government's jurisdiction and has called for a halt to the drilling. Ankara has vowed to sign a pact with the north on maritime boundaries and says it has contracted a Norwegian vessel to do a maritime survey in waters claimed by Greece.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday said Washington supports the right of Cyprus to explore in the Mediterranean for energy. She said the best way to sort out problems related to energy and economic development is to end the 37-year division of Cyprus. She made the U.S. position known in talks in New York with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is attending the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting there.

The United Nations and the European Union have asked Turkey and Cyprus to show restraint in the dispute and reach a settlement as soon as possible.

In a related issue, Turkey has threatened to freeze relations with the EU if it gives Cyprus the six-month rotating EU presidency next year. The internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government is due to take on the EU presidency next July.

Greek Cypriots represent the island internationally, while Turkey is the only country in the world that recognizes the Turkish Cypriot north of the island.

Cyprus was split in a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup. Ongoing reconciliation talks begun in 2008 between the Turkish north and the Greek south have so far failed to produce a settlement.