A dispute between Turkey and Greek Cyprus over Greek Cypriot attempts to open tenders for offshore oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean took on new dimensions yesterday when news reports said the Turkish military had sent warships to the international waters off Cyprus.
Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt denied the reports soon after they were first broadcast on Turkish television, saying there were no additional ships in the Mediterranean other than those that were already on duty in the area.
"We always have warships on duty in the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean. This is not something new. There is no need to send any new warships," Büyükanıt told reporters before a closed-door meeting with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül.
But tension was high in Greek Cyprus, where officials said national forces were ready to respond to Turkish military moves. "We are monitoring the situation in consultation with the National Guard and other security and intelligence forces, and we will act accordingly in the event that our territorial waters are violated," said Greek Cypriot Foreign Ministry official Alexandros Zenon. "We have to confirm all this and formulate our response," he added.
Zenon also criticized Turkey's stance over the oil issue as a "provocation" and "unbefitting" a country aiming for membership in the European Union.
Tension has been brewing since Ankara became aware of an agreement between Greek Cyprus and Lebanon, signed on Jan. 17, to delineate their undersea border to facilitate future oil and gas exploration. Similar accords were struck with Egypt last year.
Turkey had warned Lebanon and Egypt on Tuesday not to press ahead with the oil and gas exploration deals signed with Cyprus, saying Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots also had rights in the region. It also warned that it is "determined to protect its rights and interests in the eastern Mediterranean and will not allow attempts that would erode them."
Greek Cyprus, on the other hand, said Wednesday it would protest to the UN and the EU over Turkey's warnings and vowed to press ahead with a tender for the project.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, speaking to journalists in İstanbul yesterday, said the Turkish Cypriot state would not give up on exploration rights. “In the same way that we did not give up on Cyprus, we won’t give up our rights to its resources,” Talat said. “We have equal rights on the island.”
Greece, a natural ally of Greek Cyprus, has criticized the Turkish position. “(Turkey’s reaction) is not productive and opposes aims that are peaceful and are designed to promote economic development in the eastern Mediterranean region,” Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. “(It) is in total contradiction with international law and the right of sovereign governments to negotiate international agreements,” he said. Previous estimates put natural gas and oil reserves underneath the seabed off Cyprus at around 6 to 8 million barrels worth $400 billion.
* Lebanon gives assurances
In Beirut, the Lebanese government on Wednesday reassured that it was committed to “excellent” relations with Turkey despite signing the agreement with Greek Cyprus for delineating underseas areas for future oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean.
Hisham Dimashkieh, a senior official at the Lebanese Foreign Ministry, discussed the Turkish warning and other issues with Turkish Ambassador İrfan Acar at the Foreign Ministry, according to a statement carried by Lebanon’s official National News Agency.
“Dimashkieh stressed to Acar that Lebanon is committed to its excellent relations with Turkey and clarified that Lebanon stands at an equal distance from all friendly countries out of keenness to preserve the rights of all parties,” he was quoted as saying by The Associated Press in the statement.
There are two states on the island: Greek Cyprus and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). However the Greek side does not recognise the North and claims that all of the territorial and water areas of the island are belongs to the Greek Cyprus. The Greeks joined the European Union in 2004 while the Turkish Cypriots were kept outside the EU. The Greek Cyprus is the first and only state which was accepted as full member to the EU with border disputes.
JTW and Todays Zaman
2 February 2007