Cyprus defies Turks on gas plan

Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias said Tuesday that his country?s plans for gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean were its sovereign right and would not be derailed by Turkish threats.

Responding to a series of statements from officials in Ankara, warning of a Turkish naval response if Nicosia proceeds with its exploration plans, Christofias said, ?In the event of Turkey committing an unlawful act — something which we hope will not happen — we expect a strong and effective response from the international community.?

Christofias also lashed out at Turkey for its increasingly aggressive stance vis-a-vis Israel, with which Cyprus is cooperating ahead of the exploration as Cyprus?s undersea hydrocarbon reserves border on Israel?s huge offshore gas field, known as Leviathan. ?In addition to questioning the sovereign rights of the Cyprus Republic, Turkey is also threatening our country and its associates,? Christofias said. ?It is causing tension in the region, sending the message that it acts like a troublemaker and violates international norms.?

According to sources, the tension provoked by Ankara in the Eastern Mediterranean was one of the topics discussed Tuesday by Greece?s Prime Minister George Papandreou, Defense Minister Panos Beglitis and Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis.

Nicosia has given the drilling rights to US firm Noble Energy, which is expected to start exploration in the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone southeast of the island in the next two or three weeks. Turkish officials have indicated that the launch of the project might prompt Ankara to send navy warships into the area.

Ankara?s posturing last week provoked stern admonitions from Brussels and Athens. Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, called on Turkey ?to refrain from any kind of sources of friction or action which could negatively affect good-neighborly relations and the peaceful settlement of border disputes.?

Also last week, Greek Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos upped the ante on Ankara, indicating that Athens would regard ?any attack against Cyprus as an attack against Greece.?

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