Greece Voices Support for Cyprus 'Sovereign Rights' to Gas Fields
Greece supports Cyprus' "sovereign rights" to exploit gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Tuesday, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned global energy companies not to strike any deal with the island.
"The cooperation between Greece and Cyprus constitutes a crucial axis of Greece's foreign policy. And this clearly includes supporting the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus in the exercise of its sovereign rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone," the Greek premier told a parliamentary debate.
"Cyprus has an inalienable right under international law to exploit the deposits" and "this choice has the support of Greece, as well as the European Union and the international community against any threat," Tsipras said.
In 2011, the U.S. firm Noble Energy was the first to discover gas off Cyprus' coast, in the Aphrodite field where the natural gas reserves are estimated at some 127.4 billion cubic meters. Drilling has not started there yet.
In 2016, Cyprus placed three offshore blocks up for exploration and received expressions of interest from ENI, Total and Exxon Mobil, among others.
Nevertheless, Cyprus' largely untapped gas and oil riches form one of the main bones of contention between Nicosia and Ankara.
On Monday, Turkish President Erdogan warned energy companies to stay away from energy deals without a solution to the Cyprus problem.
"Energy companies who involve themselves in irresponsible steps taken by the Greek Cypriot side can never be met with understanding," the president said.
He said rich hydrocarbon resources on the island should belong to all parties, including northern Cyprus.
Erdogan warned against any step that could trigger new tensions or risk "losing Turkey's friendship," in an implicit warning to companies that their Turkish business could be affected.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and later occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired putsch seeking union with Greece.
It has remained divided between the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus in the south and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey.
A U.N.-backed peace conference last week in Switzerland was billed as the best chance to end the island's four-decade division. But the discussions collapsed on Friday without an agreement.
Speaking in a keynote address to the World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul on Monday, Erdogan told his audience of oil bosses that now was not the time to strike deals with the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus.
"Unfortunately a big opportunity has been missed," Erdogan said.
Turkey, which recognizes the breakaway statelet of northern Cyprus, has blamed the Greek side and said the talks' collapse spelled the end of the U.N.-backed efforts to unite the island.