NICOSIA: Cyprus said 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.
Greek Cypriots and their U.S. 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’ 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, which has been split by war in 1974.
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 Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the drilling “madness” Tuesday.
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 last year.
Turkey signed an agreement with Northern Cypriots Wednesday 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 cease-fire line manned by one of the world’s oldest U.N. peacekeeping forces.
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 any 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 the talks, both sides have already agreed that administering natural resources would strictly be a federal matter, but have so far not resolved the proportion of revenue which would be allocated to each side, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said.