More Veiled Threats From Turkey on Natural Gas
Turkey has renewed its veiled threats towards Cyprus on the issue of undersea gas and oil exploration, with a statement from its foreign ministry saying that "the Greek Cypriot Administration does not represent in law or in fact the Turkish Cypriots and Cyprus as a whole."
Bilateral agreements between Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel are "unilateral actions" which could derail settlement talks, give rise to new conflicts and increase tensions in the region, according to the statement.
"These unlawful acts create tension in the region, compromise and prejudge the Turkish Cypriots’ existing and inherent equal rights over the natural resources of the island," says Turkey's foreign ministry.
In response, recently-appointed foreign minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoulis said that the statements were 'posturing' from Turkey and that she would complain to the UN Security Council and the EU. And President Demetris Christofias called on the international community to end its silence on Turkey's threatening attitude to Cyprus.
Behind the scenes, the international community backs Cyprus on its oil exploration, according to US cables released by Wikileaks.ch. The government's plan to allow US companies like Noble Energy and others to drill in its Exclusive Economic Zone is well within its legal rights and Turkey does not have a "legal leg to stand on", says a 2007 confidential cable from the US Embassy in Nicosia.
The cable was signed off by former ambassador to Cyprus Ronald L. Schlicher and goes on to say that Turkey's political opposition to offshore drilling in Cyprus' territorial waters "has the potential to sabotage the (rights) auction by scaring off many serious bidders."
In more analysis on the issue, UK officials privately told the US that it would not oppose drilling, even though one of the blocks in Cyprus territorial waters is on an area of SBA-controlled continental shelf.
"While the UK is likely to note this publicly the UK is unlikely to object to the process, having concluded that it will not affect its military operations," says the cable.
In a later cable sent in 2009, the US was 'unlikely' to take a legal position on the issue, even though then-Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat floated the idea of suing Noble Energy in a US court. Talat objected to offshore drilling on the grounds that the Turkish Cypriots would not share any of the wealth that would come from discoveries of oil and gas.
"The Ambassador (Urbancic) explained that Noble is a private company that entered into a contract with the RoC to which the USG is not a party. Noble did not seek USG (US government) authority or backing for this venture," goes the cable's text.
Noble Energy has an exploratory license for Block 12, which lies in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone and could contain 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. During a recent visit to Cyprus, a Noble Energy official said that natural gas could be delivered from Block 12 by 2014.The company plans to start offshore drilling for undersea gas and oil by October 1st.
Risks ahead for offshore oil, gas exploitation
Lebanon and Israel are still technically at war; as are Cyprus and Turkey - which continually threatens to take action if the Republic of Cyprus goes ahead with undersea hydrocarbons exploitation without including the Turkish-Cypriot community. As it stands, Turkey said that the agreement between Israel and Cyprus is null and void.
The issue is clearly being used as leverage by Turkey to pressure the Greek-Cypriot negotiating team to reach an agreement on a reunification plan by October. Much depends on a solution in Cyprus, including Turkey's EU membership negotiations, the security of undersea oil and gas exploration and future exploitation of reserves - including supplying gas and oil to the EU.