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Monday February 17th, 2020 10:05PM

US backs Cyprus amid tensions with Turkey over gas drilling

By The Associated Press
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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The U.S. backs energy-based partnerships in the eastern Mediterranean that bolster political cooperation and prosperity and is urging against “provocative actions" that undermine stability, a government official said Wednesday.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Francis Fannon said his government supports Cyprus' right to develop its energy resources and for proceeds to be divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots as part of a deal reunifying the ethnically divided island nation.

The remarks come amid tensions over Turkey's more aggressive push to search for natural gas search in waters were Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.

“We urge all parties to not take any provocative actions that could create further any instability. And we're steadfast on that," Fannon said ahead of a gathering of Israeli, Greek and Cypriot experts discussing ways to boost safety and security in offshore gas drilling.

Fannon said Cyprus has an “incredibly important role" to play in developing energy supplies in the eastern Mediterranean that officials say could help lessen Europe's dependence on Russian gas.

Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed last month an agreement to move ahead with construction of an undersea pipeline to deliver gas to European markets.

“Energy really is that catalyst for cooperation, so the United States is committed to it at the highest levels," said Fannon.

Turkey has dispatched warship-escorted drill ships and research vessels inside Cyprus' exclusive economic zone, including in areas where energy companies Eni of Italy and France's Total are licensed to carry out exploratory drilling.

Cyprus has also licensed ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum to drill inside its economic zone.

Turkey, which doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state, insists it's acting to protect its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots to the area's energy reserves and has offered to share proceeds if it discovers any gas.

Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot breakaway state that was declared after a 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus that was triggered by a coup aiming at union with Greece.

Cyprus Energy Minister Georgios Lakkotrypis accused Turkey of acting as a “spoiler" in regional energy cooperation by violating international law and Cypriot sovereign rights.

The Cypriot government says Turkish Cypriot rights to the country's potential hydrocarbon's wealth is ensured through a newly-established fund as well as agreements reached in peace talks.

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