US supports Cyprus, wants closer east Med gas cooperation

Cyprus’ foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides, left, and Under Secretary of the United States of America, for Political Affairs, David Hale touch elbows following their meeting at Larnaca international airport, Cyprus, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. Hale’s brief stop in Cyprus comes amid heightened tensions over Turkey’s hydrocarbons search in waters Greece and Cyprus claim as their own. (Christos Avraamides/Press and Information Office of Cyprus via AP)

LARNACA, Cyprus (AP) — The U.S. wants tighter cooperation on developing gas finds in the “strategically significant” eastern Mediterranean and supports Cyprus’ right to exploit hydrocarbon deposits discovered in its waters, a senior U.S. State Department official said Sunday.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale said hydrocarbon development would aim to “provide durable energy security and economic prosperity throughout the Mediterranean,” according to the U.S. Embassy in Cyprus.

The statement was issued after Hale met with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides to discuss the eastern Mediterranean’s “growing strategic significance” as well as recent developments in the region, including the devastating Aug. 4 blast in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut.

Hale’s brief visit to the island nation came amid growing military tensions over Turkey’s gas prospecting in waters where European Union members Greece and Cyprus say they have exclusive economic rights.

On Friday, EU foreign ministers expressed “full solidarity” with Greece and Cyprus and urged an “immediate de-escalation” by Turkey as Greek and Turkish navy ships shadowed each other.

Turkey had earlier dispatched a pair of warship-escorted research vessels to explore the southeastern sides of both Crete and Cyprus. But on Sunday, Turkey appeared to be upping the ante by announcing that another drill ship, the Yavuz, would be conducting a month-long hydrocarbons search off Cyprus’ southwestern coast.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned the move which he said further fueled tensions and undermined efforts to resume talks. He called on Turkey to “end these activities immediately and to engage fully in in good faith” in talks with the EU.

Turkey, which doesn’t recognize ethnically divided Cyprus as a state, claims 44% of the island’s economic zone as its own and insists it has every right to carry out such explorations in defense of its interests and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

The U.S. Embassy statement said Hale “reaffirmed American support for the right of the Republic of Cyprus to exploit its natural resources, including the hydrocarbons found in its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone.”

The U.S. official added these resources should be “equitably shared between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.”

The Cyprus government has bemoaned what it called the EU’s “appeasement” of Turkey, which has so far failed to rein in the country. It also says an apparent U.S. “disengagement” from the eastern Mediterranean has emboldened the Turkish government to exert further control over the region.

Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said Hale assured him that the U.S. remains committed to the eastern Mediterranean region.

Cyprus has licensed ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum, as well as Texas-based Noble Energy — bought out last month by Chevron — to drill for gas in its exclusive economic zone.

Hale also lauded expanding U.S.-Cyprus security cooperation and reiterated American support for a resumption of stalled reunification talks.

——-

Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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