US urges Turkey against 'illegal drilling' off Cyprus coast

US urges Turkey against 'illegal drilling' off Cyprus coast
Turkey recently announced its vessels would be carrying out drilling operations in the Mediterranean until September
2 min read
The recent discovery of gigantic gas fields in the Mediterranean has prompted competing claims [Getty]

US officials pressed Turkey on Sunday against going forward with plans to start exploratory drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus, labeled as illegal by the European Union.

"The United States is deeply concerned by Turkey's announced intentions to begin offshore drilling operations in an area claimed by the Republic of Cyprus as its Exclusive Economic Zone," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

"This step is highly provocative and risks raising tensions in the region. We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint."

On Friday, Turkey announced its vessels would be carrying out drilling operations in the Mediterranean until September.

According to reports in Cypriot media, the operation will encroach on the island state's exclusive economic zone.

The government of the Republic of Cyprus controls only two thirds of the Mediterranean island, the northern third of which is controlled by a Turkish-backed breakaway administration.

Turkey first announced it would be drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus in February.

The discovery of gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has prompted claims by the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government and Ankara.

European Union member Cyprus has been pressing to develop offshore gas deposits and has signed deals with energy giants Eni, Total and ExxonMobil that have seen them carry out exploratory drilling.

Ankara claims that such exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the natural resources that surround the island.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

The Turkish-populated northern part of the island then declared the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is recognised only by Ankara. UN-backed efforts to reunify the island have so far come to nothing.

Texas-based Noble Energy in 2011 made the first discovery off Cyprus in the Aphrodite block estimated to contain around 4.5 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The discovery of nearby huge offshore gas resevoir off Egypt's coast in 2015 has stoked hopes that Cypriot waters hold further riches.

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