Ankara oil bid stirs fears

A decision by Ankara to authorize its Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) to prospect for oil beyond Turkish territorial waters off the coast of Cyprus yesterday fueled diplomatic angst in Athens and Nicosia. The news that Ankara had given TPAO the go-ahead to explore for oil close to Cyprus, published in Turkey’s government gazette on Thursday, caused consternation among Cypriots who are in the middle of a peace drive on the divided island but also among Greek diplomats who have been trying to remain cool-headed in the face of a recent spike in violations of Greek air space by Turkish jets. According to the Turkish government decree, a Turkish vessel is set to embark on hydrocarbon exploration in four areas, including a bloc in the eastern Mediterranean, northeast of Cyprus. The decision is believed to be, in part at least, a reaction to Nicosia’s plans, confirmed earlier this year, to prospect for oil off the island’s coast. In Athens government officials had not issued an official reaction to the news by late yesterday but the mood was believed to be tense in the Foreign and Defense ministries particularly in view of a fresh series of Greek air space violations by Turkish jets. Shortly before noon a formation of eight Turkish F16s violated Greek air space in the Aegean. At 12.30 p.m. four more jets flew over Agathonisi at an altitude of less than 300 meters. The transgressions caused more concern than usual as they coincided with the news of Turkey’s imminent oil exploration off Cyprus and with provocative comments by Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, published in the Turkish-Cypriot newspaper Kibris. Talat, who continued face-to-face talks with Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias in Nicosia, ruffled feathers by claiming that «there was a great possibility of bloodshed» if Turkish armed forces are forced to withdraw from the occupied north of the island before a settlement is reached.