US supports Cyprus, wants closer eastern Mediterranean gas cooperation

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The US wants tighter cooperation on developing gas finds in the “strategically significant” eastern Mediterranean and supports Cyprus’ right to exploit hydrocarbon deposits discovered in its waters, a senior US State Department official said Sunday.

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale said hydrocarbon development would aim to “provide durable energy security and economic prosperity throughout the Mediterranean,” according to the US Embassy in Cyprus.

The statement was issued after Hale met with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides to discuss the eastern Mediterranean’s “growing strategic significance” as well as recent developments in the region, including the devastating August 4 blast in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut.

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Hale’s brief visit to the island nation came amid growing military tensions over Turkey’s gas prospecting in waters where European Union members Greece and Cyprus say they have exclusive economic rights.

On Friday, EU foreign ministers expressed “full solidarity” with Greece and Cyprus and urged an “immediate de-escalation” by Turkey as Greek and Turkish navy ships shadowed each other.

A file photo of Turkish seismic exploration ship ‘Oruc Reis’ sailing at sea. (Reuters)
A file photo of Turkish seismic exploration ship ‘Oruc Reis’ sailing at sea. (Reuters)

Turkey had earlier dispatched a pair of warship-escorted research vessels to explore the southeastern sides of both Crete and Cyprus. But on Sunday, Turkey appeared to be upping the ante by announcing that another drill ship, the Yavuz, would be conducting a month-long hydrocarbons search off Cyprus’ southwestern coast.

Turkey, which doesn’t recognize ethnically divided Cyprus as a state, claims 44 percent of the island’s economic zone as its own and insists it has every right to carry out such explorations in defense of its interests and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

The US Embassy statement said Hale “reaffirmed American support for the right of the Republic of Cyprus to exploit its natural resources, including the hydrocarbons found in its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone.”

The US official added these resources should be “equitably shared between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.”

The Cyprus government has bemoaned what it called the EU’s “appeasement” of Turkey, which has so far failed to rein in the country. It also says an apparent US “disengagement” from the eastern Mediterranean has emboldened the Turkish government to exert further control over the region.

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Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said Hale assured him that the US remains committed to the eastern Mediterranean region.

Cyprus has licensed ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum, as well as Texas-based Noble Energy — bought out last month by Chevron — to drill for gas in its exclusive economic zone.

Hale also lauded expanding US-Cyprus security cooperation and reiterated American support for a resumption of stalled reunification talks.

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