ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the United States are deepening their cooperation in the energy sector, officials from the four countries said Wednesday, noting that energy issues can foster closer ties, not just tensions, in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tensions have been mounting between Turkey and Cyprus over gas exploration in the region and a second Turkish ship started drilling for gas off eastern Cyprus on Wednesday, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported.
At a meeting Wednesday in Athens, Cyprus Energy Minister Georgios Lakkotrypis said he briefed his counterparts “on the recent violations of Turkey, its illegal actions within Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and more recently inside its territorial waters.”
“The ministers and the United States reiterated their full support and solidarity for the Republic of Cyprus in exploring and developing its resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone and express their concern with recent provocative steps underway in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the four nations said in a joint statement.
“The United States also reaffirmed its position that the island’s oil and gas resources should be shared equitably between both (Cypriot) communities in the context of an overall settlement,” it said.
In June, a Turkish ship started drilling in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights. The government of the ethnically divided east Mediterranean island nation says the activity is illegal and the European Union announced sanctions against Turkey. Ankara insists it is protecting its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus’ breakaway north to the area’s hydrocarbon deposits.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency on Wednesday quoted Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez as saying the Yavuz began drilling operations in an area off the Karpas peninsula that are expected to last up to three months.
Greek Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis said the meeting in Athens was “not a meeting against any country. It is a meeting in favor of international law, international treaties. This is a meeting aiming at promoting stability and cooperation.”
Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz noted that cooperation between Israel, Jordan and Egypt and the upcoming start of Israeli gas exports to Egypt showed that energy could be a source of goodwill.
“I think that energy can create tension, unfortunately, like we saw recently around Cyprus, between Cyprus and Turkey,” Steinitz said. “But energy can also help to promote cooperation, and you have the best token here around the table.”
He also expressed hope for speedy progress on the East Med pipeline, an ambitious project to link eastern Mediterranean gas deposits to Europe.
Israel, Cyprus and Greece have forged an energy-based partnership that has steadily grown following the discovery of gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean. The United States began joining the talks earlier this year.
“Energy can be a bridge to broader political stability and economic progress, a positive force indeed,” said US Assistant Secretary of State Francis Fannon.