In a sign that Turkey is intent on stirring up trouble in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has warned Cyprus against proceeding with offshore oil and gas drilling activities, saying:
it would finalize an agreement with Turkish Cypriots to mark out undersea borders to facilitate future oil and gas exploration.
The undersea boundary has been among the most contentious issues in Greek-Turkish relations, with each country trying to mark out where on the continental shelf it can exploit seabed oil and mineral deposits in the Aegean Sea.
A move by Turkey to declare such a border would aggravate relations with Greece and Cyprus, which is divided into an EU-member Greek south and a breakaway Turkish north.
The announcement by Turkey’s Foreign Ministry came a day after Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias announced that U.S. firm Noble Energy will soon begin exploratory drilling to confirm deposits beneath the sea bed off Cyprus’ southern coast despite Turkey’s attempts to prevent such a move.
Turkey insists that Cyprus has no right to go ahead with the search before a settlement to reunify the divided island can be reached. It has warned Cyprus against pursuing “adventurist policies,” and said Turkish Cypriots should also have a say in how the island’s oil-and-gas rights are used.
That’s rich, coming from Turkey who invaded Cyprus in 1974, ethnically cleansing the Greek-Cypriot population from the north of the island, who to this day cannot return to their homes.
The involvement of the Noble Energy could further complicate matters for Turkey, a U.S. ally. Cyprus has licensed Noble to search for fossil fuels near two significant gas discoveries in its Israeli offshore blocks.
A very interesting detail emerges from one tiny sentence in the article:
Cyprus has also signed agreements with Lebanon and Egypt to mark out undersea borders to facilitate future oil and gas exploration, prompting Turkey to urge those two countries to scrap the deals.
This could hopefully bode well for Israel too, since it could remove any clash of interest over border demarcations regarding their offshore gas drilling as well.
The US is trying to be neutral but is finding it hard since Noble Energy is an American company. The US is also very much in favour of developing alternative energy sources which are not dependent on Middle East oil. Therefore title of this Hurriyet article is a little misleading: The US backs up Greek Cyprus in gas-drilling row – it does back them up, but in a rather faint-hearted way.
The Greek Cypriot administration’s plans for natural gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean has received a nod from the U.S. administration.
The U.S. choice not to take a clear stance in the drilling row, despite its deep involvement in the Cyprus reunification talks and the Texas-based Nobel Energy, which holds 100 percent of the unexplored Block 12, an economic zone southeast of the island, puts Americans in the middle of the intense spat.
In a three-point statement I received from the State Department on Wednesday, the U.S. administration states that it is aware of Turkey’s position on the issue, and reiterated its commitment ‘’to support strongly the efforts of both Cypriot parties to reunify the island into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.’’ However, as a final point, the U.S. administration underscored that it views the plans in terms of ‘’securing energy supplies through better energy diversity’’ and that ‘’is something that the United States strongly supports for all countries.’’
The U.S. perceives the Greek Cypriot drilling plans, which could reportedly “sustain the energy need in Europe for the next 100 years,” in terms of an alternative energy source for its European allies to help gaining energy independence, despite fierce Turkish objections.
The UN, true to form, is calling for calm in the Cyprus drilling row.
The United Nations on Friday called for a peaceful resolution to a growing dispute between Turkey and Greek Cyprus over offshore gas and oil exploration, saying any finds should benefit both sides of the divided island.
“It should be understood that natural resources, if they are discovered, would be for the benefit of all Cypriots – Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots – under the framework of a federal united Cyprus,” said Lisa Buttenheim, special representative of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who heads the U.N. peacekeeping mission on the island.
“The United Nations would appeal to all involved to resolve this matter in a peaceful manner,” she said.
Considering that Turkey and Cyprus have still not resolved the division of the island, it is not clear how the UN expects this row to be resolved peacefully. In any event the Greek Cypriots feel safe enough to declare:
Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis said Friday that the international community has afforded Cyprus political protection for the search for mineral deposits inside its exclusive economic zone, which is near to sizable gas finds within Israeli waters. “At this moment, we have a very satisfactory shield of political support over these actions,” she told state radio.
Turkey looks like it might have bitten off more than it can chew. They have requested help from the EU in averting a crisis in the gas-drilling row, but the EU is not appearing very helpful to Turkey.
Turkey’s ambassador to the EU has said member states should urge Cyprus to “see reason” in order to stop a dispute over gas exploration from getting worse.
“Europe, which has an interest in this, should say to the Greek Cypriot authorities that it is inadvisable to raise the stakes, because they are raising the stakes. We are not the ones who started exploration in disputed waters … the EU can tell the Greek Cypriots they have to be reasonable,” Selim Kuneralp told EUobserver in an interview on Monday (12 September).
If those words sound slightly sinister, consider this implicit threat:
Asked by EUobserver if Turkey would use warships to stop Noble from going ahead if necessary, Kuneralp said: “I hope it will not come to that and the Greek Cypriots will see reason … I didn’t mention warships. I think it’s better to hope that reason will prevail.”
An offer they’ll find hard to refuse, no doubt.
For its part, Cyprus has in recent months lobbied EU friends to make sure the gas operation goes ahead.
German EU energy commissioner Gunther Oetteinger in a statement earlier this month said: “The EU urges Turkey to refrain from any kind of threat, sources of friction or action which could negatively affect good neighbourly relations”. Greek foreign minister Stavros Lambrinidis in August said it is Cyprus’ “sovereign right” to go ahead.
He made clear that the bad feeling between Ankara and Nicosia will see EU-Turkey relations put on hold when Cyprus takes over the rotating EU presidency in late 2012, however.
Speaking of warships, again it looks like Turkey has overstepped its mark even with the IHH terrorist organization that planned the Mavi Marmara flotilla:
Early reactions to Turkey’s hawkish Gaza policy from the NGOs which planned the ill-fated 2010 operation indicate that it might have misjudged the situation.
Speaking to EUobserver on Monday, Izzet Sahin, a spokesman for the Turkey-based IHH, the main group behind the 2010 mission, said Turkish warships might in future escort Turkish government aid vessels but that his NGO wants to keep clear lines of division between charity work and regional politics.
“As an NGO, we did not ask for this kind of escort or help last time because we are independent. As an NGO we co-operate with other NGOs but not states. States have their own agendas,” he said.
When both the EU and US reject your stance, and when even your own terrorist organizations reject your help, surely it is time for Turkey to reconsider its own belligerent pose with regard to Cyprus, Greece and Israel.