Cyprus wants Israeli support in offshore drilling spat

Cypriot FM tells ‘Post’ Nicosia in conflict with Turkey over exploration rights; J'lem interested in "cooperating in energy field," PM responds.

Cyprus' FM Kozakou-Marcoullis  (photo credit: Reuters)
Cyprus' FM Kozakou-Marcoullis
(photo credit: Reuters)
With her country locked in a nasty tiff with Turkey over maritime gas exploration rights, Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis came to Israel Wednesday looking for signs of support on the matter from Jerusalem, and received it in the form of statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement following a meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Kozakou-Marcoullis saying among the issues discussed was “expanding the possibilities of cooperating in the energy field, since both countries have been blessed with natural gas deposits in their exclusive economic zones.”
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Turkey has threatened Cyprus against going ahead with plans to begin drilling for offshore gas deposits, with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu threatening earlier this month that Ankara would show the “necessary response” if Cyprus went ahead with the plans.
Turkey, which has occupied northern Cyprus since 1974, claims Cyprus does not have the right to exploit the island’s natural resources, and that it cannot ignore the Turkish- Cypriot rights to the resources.
Both the US and Russia have in recent days released statements supporting the Cypriot position, and Kozakou-Marcoullis told The Jerusalem Post in an interview, before meeting Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, that she hoped for a “message going out from Israel regarding the principle regarding sovereign rights in the exclusive economic zone.”
Lieberman, like Netanyahu, also put out a statement signaling support for Cyprus’s position, saying he and his Cypriot colleague praised the agreement reached by Israel and Cyprus in 2010 delineating their maritime boundaries and their respective exclusive economic zones, and saying that beginning work to extract the gas should be done quickly “for the benefit of both sides.”
In the Post interview, Kozakou- Marcoullis said Cyprus was planning exploratory drilling within the next two weeks, regardless of Turkey’s threats.
“We have international law on our side,” she said. “I think Turkey has to listen to the messages being sent by the international community regarding this issue.”
She said while Cyprus has to be concerned about “any kind of threats coming from Turkey, at the same time we are proceeding as scheduled and doing whatever we have to do regarding raising the issue with other countries.”
The Cypriot foreign minister, who has been in her job, this time around, for only three weeks, having held the post previously for almost a year in 2007-2008, downplayed speculation the dramatic upturn in Israeli-Cypriot ties was linked to Israel’s deterioration of relations with Ankara, saying the improvement had more to do with Cyprus’s entrance into the EU in 2004, and Israel’s seeing Cyprus as a “gateway to the EU.”
Netanyahu told Kozakou- Marcoullis the two countries were “two democracies with common values and overlapping interests in the eastern Mediterranean.” He said the ties between the two countries should be tightened “because we have to make up for gaps that were created over decades.”
For years, Cyprus was considered one of the most critical countries of Israel in Europe.
Kozakou-Marcoullis told the Post the strong current bilateral ties between the two countries would remain even were Israel and Turkey to repair their relationship.
“The fact that before you had a strong relationship with Turkey, and now you don’t is not an element at all for us,” she said.
Kozakou-Marcoullis would not get pinned down on how Cyprus would vote in the UN in September on the Palestinian statehood recognition issue, saying the EU’s position on this was still “under discussion.”
She said the EU’s foreign ministers would “brainstorm” on the issue at an informal meeting they will hold in Poland on September 2. The visiting foreign minister said Cyprus was interested in seeing Israel and the PA return to negotiations.
“The most important thing at the moment now is to resume the talks,” she said, adding that at the moment she could not say whether the EU would be able to reach a consensus on the matter.
Government sources said the impression Netanyahu walked away with from the meeting was that Cyprus would not support the Palestinian move.