US bid for Cyprus oil irks Turks

The announcement by the US ambassador in Nicosia this week regarding the launch of oil and gas exploration off the coast of Cyprus by an American firm has sparked an angry response from Turkish officials and, in turn, stern words from authorities in Nicosia. Responding to comments by Ambassador to Cyprus Frank Urbancic on Tuesday, Turkish officials were quoted in Turkey’s daily Hurriyet yesterday as saying, «Our fleet is there – we cannot allow this to happen even if it is a US company.» The comments came after Urbancic revealed that an American company was preparing to prospect for oil off the divided island. «US investments in Cyprus amount to more than $379 million. This figure will soon increase substantially as an American energy firm begins exploring for oil and gas off Cyprus’s southwest coast,» Urbancic was quoted as saying in Turkey’s Zaman newspaper. The company was not named but is believed to be a big player in the oil and gas market to be trying to access oil deposits at a depth of more than 2,500 meters below sea level. Officials in Nicosia yesterday sought to put the Turks in their place. «The mineral wealth belongs to the Republic of Cyprus and no one else,» said Cypriot Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Antonis Paschalidis. «If the Cyprus problem was solved tomorrow, the Turkish Cypriots would also be in a position to benefit,» Paschalidis added. Meanwhile, diplomats in Athens noted that any attempt by Turkey to obstruct the scheduled exploration by the US firm would provoke a face-off with Washington and would create problems for the launch of talks between officials in Brussels and European Union candidate Turkey on the energy sector. Turkey has actively opposed oil exploration off Cyprus since authorities in Nicosia expressed their intention to exploit the island’s underwater mineral wealth two years ago. In December, Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou said that a dispute over offshore oil exploration was damaging Turkey’s efforts to join the EU. Nicosia has accused Turkey of harassing hydrocarbon research vessels four times since November 13.