Turkey-Cyprus tensions nearing boiling point? Cyprus announced Monday that it has contracted US-based Noble Energy to do exploratory drilling for oil and gas off the coast of Cyprus despite the area being the center of a dispute it has with Turkey.
Turkey had warned Cyprus against any such move in the past and in a significant escalation of tensions, Ankara said that it would send warships to protect its claims to submarine resources in the area.
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"Turkey's frigates, gunboats and its air force will constantly monitor developments in the area," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, adding that Turkey will begin its own oil and gas search as early as this week.
Noble Energy, based in Houston, is now smack in the middle of the escalating dispute over mineral deposits in the eastern Mediterranean, complicated by the status of Cyprus. The island has been divided since 1974 into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, which is recognized only by Turkey.
Turkish warship (Photo: AP)
The dispute is not only where any future energy revenues flow, but who has the right to what undersea riches when the status of the nearby land itself is unresolved.
Cypriot energy chief Solon Kassinis said Monday that workers on a Noble rig have already drilled 260 feet beneath the seabed about 115 miles off the island's southern coast.
The area in question is near sizable gas finds within Israeli waters, and within Cyprus' exclusive economic zone – an area marked out following agreements with Egypt, Israel and Lebanon delineating editerranean undersea borders to facilitate the search for mineral deposits.
The Turkish government does not recognize the Cypriot government in the south, and vigorously protested the August announcement of Noble's intentions.
Turkey says the Greek Cypriot drilling can derail long-running talks to reunify the island.
"This exclusive economic zone is disputed and we have told them that it is not right for them to take such a step in this area," Erdogan told reporters on Monday.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said that unless Cyprus halted the drilling, his country would send its own energy research ship out escorted by the Turkish navy.
"This work will be carried out together with the escort," Yildiz told reporters. "There will be no turning back on this issue."
Turkey has been pursuing an increasingly muscular foreign policy since the reelection of its religiously rooted government in June. It expelled the Israeli ambassador this month in a dispute over a deadly Israeli raid last year on a Turkish aid convoy to the Gaza Strip and pledged to send its navy to escort future aid convoys.
Turkey has also renewed threats to freeze all ties with the European Union if Cyprus is allowed to assume the presidency of the 27-nation group next July before a settlement that would allow the Turkish north to be a legitimate representative of the reunified state.
AP contributed to this report
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