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Turkey threatens to retaliate if Cyprus proceeds with drilling plans

Turkey has threatened to retaliate if Greek Cyprus goes ahead with plans to drill off its coast as part of a deal with US energy firm Noble, which leaves out the Turkish part of the island. The EU urged restraint.


AFP - Turkey threatened Monday to start oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean next week if the Greek Cypriots press ahead with drilling plans.

"If Greek Cyprus sticks to the timetable it announced previously, we will start drilling activity next week," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters.

The Greek Cypriot government, recognised internationally but not by Turkey, has made a deal with US energy firm Noble, which is expected to start exploratory drilling off the island before next month.

Yildiz called on Cyprus "to hold immediately" those plans, failing which Turkey would retaliate.

He said Ankara had signed an agreement with a Norwegian company for seismic drilling off the island, but he declined to name it.

"First of all, we will start exploration with one vessel," he said, adding that the Turkish navy may escort drilling ships in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey has repeatedly called on Cyprus to postpone its gas exploration, saying the Greek side has no right to do so while the island remains split, thus leaving the Turkish north out of the picture.

Yildiz repeated that "depending on the developments, Turkey could sign a continental shelf agreement" with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognised only by Ankara.

With such an agreement, the TRNC would grant Turkey the right to share offshore energy sources, the minister explained.

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia aimed at union with Greece.

The Greek Cyprus government says its hydrocarbon search is to the benefit of all Cypriots. It has also ratcheted up the rhetoric as it seeks further cooperation with Israel in the exploration and export of natural gas.

In December, Cyprus and Israel signed an agreement defining their maritime border that allows the neighbours to forge ahead in the search for energy sources in the eastern Mediterranean.

Yildiz lashed out at the Cypriot government's attempts as "provocation."

Turkey and Israel have been locked in a bitter dispute since May 2010 when Israeli naval commandos stormed a convoy of six ships trying to reach the Gaza Strip in defiance of an Israeli naval blockade, killing nine people.

Turkey has threatened to freeze its ties with the European Union, which it wants to join, if member Cyprus takes the rotating presidency of the bloc as scheduled next year.

Yildiz warned, however, that Cyprus-led energy deals could force Turkey to move earlier.

"That will be an important choice for the EU, between Turkey and Greek Cyprus," he said.

Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said Monday, "We urge Turkey to refrain from any kind of threat or sources of friction or action which could negatively affect the good neighbourly relations and the peaceful settlement of border disputes."

Kocijancic repeated EU calls for a comprehensive settlement over Cyprus, saying, "All parties should exercise restraint and do their utmost to facilitate success for completion of this process."

"We have also underlined the importance of progress in normalisation of the relations between Turkey and all EU member states, including for example Cyprus," she told a press briefing in Brussels.

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