NEWS

PM calls Ankara over Cyprus

Prime Minister George Papandreou telephoned his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday to appeal for ?self-restraint and calm? following a spike in regional tensions over oil and gas and exploration launched last week off the southern coast of Cyprus.

Government spokesman Ilias Mossialos said Papandreou had emphasized the importance ?of self-restraint and calm in matters of security in the Eastern Mediterranean? and had stressed Nicosia?s right to exercise its rights as a sovereign state. ?Unilateral actions that create problems in the region should be avoided,? Mossialos quoted Papandreou as saying.

According to sources, the prime minister is keen to reboot Greek-Turkish relations, which have stalled after several years of rapprochement. Sources said the two leaders agreed that a bilateral council of high-level officials would convene before early November.

But Mossialos played down Papandreou?s conversation with Erdogan, noting that it effectively replaced a scheduled meeting in New York last weekend between the two men which never happened as mounting pressure on Papandreou to implement reforms obliged him to cancel the trip.

According to Turkish government sources, Erdogan told the Greek premier that Cyprus could only prospect for oil and gas off its shores once a settlement has been reached in United Nations-mediated peace talks to reunify the island.

As an alternative scenario, the Turkish premier reportedly echoed a proposal by Turkish-Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu for the creation of a committee of Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot officials to oversee the drilling and split any gains between the two sides.

Officials in Nicosia had already indicated that revenues from energy reserves could be shared with the Turkish Cypriots.

Last week, Turkey responded to the launch of drilling off Cyprus by heralding a similar initiative with authorities in the island?s Turkish-occupied north.

A Turkish vessel, dispatched to Cyprus last Friday, was reportedly due to start exploration Monday.