Friday, 23 September 2011

Cyprus pledges to share oil resources in bid to cool tensions

In an attempt to defuse an increasingly tense stand-off in the eastern Mediterranean, Cypriot President Demetris Christofias has promised to share the proceeds of any oil found offshore with the island's Turkish Cypriot community.

Christofias insisted that a peace treaty between the EU-member Greek south and the largely unrecognised Turkish north of Cyprus had to be found, but that “even before a settlement we shall find a way to use revenues to the benefit of both communities”. He stated that the discovery of offshore oil and gas would be another incentive for the two sides to find a peaceful solution to their long-running dispute.

The Cypriot move appears to be a limited concession to the Turkish Cypriots, who this week signed a deal with their patron in Turkey to jointly explore the sea off the island's northern coastline. The agreement was a response to Cyprus's own decision to start drilling offshore, a move which Ankara denounced as a provocation which infringed the rights of the Turkish Cypriots. Turkey has also threatened to blacklist any energy firms which cooperate with the Greek Cypriots.

On 23rd September Turkey dispatched a seismic exploration ship to the waters off northern Cyprus. Three warships were dispatched to the area on 21st September and Turkish officials have warned that they will escort exploration vessels as required, although there is no suggestion that the Cypriots would seek a military confrontation. Nonetheless Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz has said he does not expect the region to heat up.

Working with the Greek Cypriots, US firm Noble Energy began drilling to the south of Cyprus earlier this week. They are expecting to find large gas deposits near the maritime border with Israel. Noble has recently discovered a series of major gas fields in Israeli waters, and Cyprus has expressed interest in energy cooperation with Israel, including the development of undersea pipelines. A separate deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations has contributed to the tensions in the area.

It is unclear whether Christofias's suggestion of sharing revenues is entirely realistic: it may simply be an attempt to reduce the antagonistic atmosphere in the eastern Mediterranean, but it seems unlikely that Turkey will back down on its exploration with the Turkish Cypriots. Joint exploration and drilling would help to calm Turkey and encourage progress on a peace deal, but whether the political will exists to do so is another matter.

Sources; Hürriyet, Reuters, Today's Zaman

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