Turkey and Turkish Cypriots Sign Oil and Gas Exploration Deal

Posted September 21st, 2011 at 2:11 pm (UTC-5)
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Turkish state media say Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots of breakaway northern Cyprus have signed an agreement to explore for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean.

The reports say Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Dervis Eroglu, signed the deal Wednesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.

The deal, which was opposed by the European Union, came in response to a similar move earlier this week by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriots. Cypriot energy chief Solon Kassinis announced Monday that U.S. firm Noble Energy had started drilling inside Cyprus' 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.

Mr. Erdogan says Turkey also will soon begin offshore oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean. The Turkish military plans to use frigates, aircraft and torpedo boats to monitor developments in the eastern Mediterranean.

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

The United Nations and the European Union have asked the two sides to show restraint in the dispute and reach a settlement as soon as possible. The United States says it supports the right of Cyprus to explore in the Mediterranean for oil and gas, but that the best way to resolve problems related to energy and economic development is to end the 37-year division of Cyprus.

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 started in 2008 between the Turkish north and the Greek Cypriot south, but have so far failed to produce a settlement.