DIMITRIS CHRISTOFIAS 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NICOSIA - Cyprus said on Thursday it was willing to share the benefits of any gas find with Turkish Cypriots before reaching a peace deal on the ethnically split island, in an apparent attempt to calm tensions with Turkey over Mediterranean energy reserves.
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Greek Cypriots and their US partner Noble Energy started drilling south of the island for gas this week, incurring the wrath of Turkey, which says such a move deprives Turkish Cypriots of their right to a share of the proceeds.
Speaking in New York, Cypriot President Demetris Christofias said he wanted both Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to benefit from any find.
"My message to Turkey and to the Turkish Cypriots is to find a solution
as soon as possible, but as President I guarantee that even before a
solution ...that if we have revenue, we will see in which way we can use
the revenues for the benefit of the two communities. That must be very
clear," Christofias said, according to an official statement.
His comments marked a softening of the stance adopted by Cyprus's Greek
Cypriot government, which represents the island internationally. Until
now, authorities had said Turkish Cypriots would reap benefits from any
gas discovery only after there was a deal on the island, split by war in
Turkey, which backs a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in northern
Cyprus, has challenged the right of Cyprus and Israel to drill in an
area believed to be the world's biggest gas find of the past decade.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called the drilling "madness" on
Relations between Turkey and one-time ally Israel have deteriorated
sharply in recent weeks over Israel's refusal to apologize for killing
Turkish activists aboard a ship carrying aid to Palestinians in Gaza
On Wednesday Turkey signed an agreement with Turkish Cypriots which will
pave the way for rival gas and oil exploration off the island's north.
It has said its navy and air force would be dispatched to the
Mediterranean to escort its exploration vessels.
Turkey invaded north Cyprus in 1974 after a short-lived Greek Cypriot
coup. It still maintains a heavy military presence in the north of the
island, split by a ceasefire line manned by one of the world's oldest UN
Ankara says the Greek Cypriots cannot tap reserves which belong to both
communities of the island, and accuse them of undermining peace talks.
Greek Cypriots accuse the Turkish side of dragging its feet.
"If Turkey indeed wishes to see the Turkish Cypriot community reap
benefits from this gift of nature to Cyprus, it must convince Mr
(Dervis) Eroglu to conclude an agreement," Christofias said, referring
to the Turkish Cypriot leader.
Despite tensions, both sides have continued to attend peace talks under
the auspices of the United Nations. In principle, they agree on uniting
Cyprus as a federation.
As part of talks, the sides have already agreed that administering
natural resources would be a federal issue, but have not resolved the
proportion of revenue which would be allocated to each side, a source
with direct knowledge of the matter said.