Turkish Cypriots vow to launch gas search unless Greek side pulls back

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Turkish Cypriots will launch their own exploration for oil and gas around Cyprus if Greek Cypriots persist with their own plans, their foreign minister said on March 9, as an uneasy standoff lingered over offshore resources.

Greek Cypriots have licensed several offshore blocks to multinationals for oil and gas exploration. But Italy’s Eni abandoned a scheduled drill last month because of the presence of Turkish military vessels. A division of ExxonMobil is due to launch an exploration attempt this year.

“Either we will do it together – by discussing, agreeing and moving together – or things will stop, or, we (Turkish Cypriots) will do the same thing: we will start exploiting and drilling as well,” said Kudret Özersay, foreign minister of Northern Cyprus, in an interview with Reuters.

Turkey has vowed to prevent what it sees as a unilateral move by Greek Cypriots, but EU member Cyprus has shown no signs of backing down. Brussels has urged Turkey to avoid threats and refrain from actions that could damage relations with the bloc.

Asked whether the dispute could escalate, Özersay said diplomacy would be the first tool: “We aim at cooling down the waters, not warming them up.”

“For that reason in the most recent (incident) we did not use force. We did not even demonstrate force. There was deterrence there,” he said, adding the Turkish Cypriot side had pursued diplomacy before then.

“Our argument on the issue of maritime areas is not based on geography,” Özersay said, to an observation that Cyprus has only licensed maritime exploration areas lying south of the island, where it exercises effective control, and not to the north.

“It is based on historic rights and the rights deriving from the partnership republic,” he said from his office, less than 5 km (3 miles) from a checkpoint where hundreds of Cypriots cross daily between the two sides.

“The thing is, not only the Turkish Cypriot side, but also the international community and the Greek Cypriot side accepts and acknowledges that we are the co-owners of those hydrocarbon resources,” Özersay said.

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