EU member Greek Cyprus vowed on Wednesday to keep Turkey's entry talks on hold as long as Ankara challenges the island's rights to launch offshore gas drilling, in an escalating row among east Mediterranean neighbours over hydrocarbon reserves.
Rhetoric over ownership of speculated oil and gas deposits has sharpened after a deterioration of relations between Turkey and Israel, the discovery of massive gas fields by Israel and plans by Greek Cyprus to drill as early as next month.
Greek Cyprus, an EU member since 2004, has blocked the opening of several negotiating chapters in Turkey-EU entry talks. One of those is energy.
"The position of Cyprus has not changed. Turkey must make a formal commitment to the EU that it will end its provocations towards the Republic of Cyprus and stop obstructing Cypriot efforts in the field of energy," said Stefanos Stefanou, the Greek Cypriot government spokesman.
Stefanou’s remarks came the EU Commission, the 27-nation bloc’s executive arm, has urged the member states for progress in accession talks with Turkey on energy chapter. In a document outlining the EU’s energy policy, the Commission said progress in this area will help advance Turkish-EU cooperation and create a solid legal framework for the transfer of natural gas from eastern suppliers to European markets, Turkey’s semi-official Anatolia news agency reported on Tuesday.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week Ankara was ready to deploy its navy across the Mediterranean in a dispute with Israel over an Israeli sea blockade of Gaza.
Greek Cyprus falls under the radar of the warning since it coincides with its drilling southeast of the island, a right Turkey contests, and possible cooperation with Israel, whose rights to offshore reserves has also been questioned by Ankara.
Turkey says any hydrocarbon reserves do not only belong to Greek Cypriots, but also to Turkish Cypriots, who run their own state in the north of the island.
Turkish Cypriots have not been part of any Cypriot government since 1963, when there was a constitutional breakdown just three years after independence from Britain.
The row could complicate peace talks launched between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides in 2008, while the drilling coincides with a major push from the United Nations to resolve the Cyprus conflict by mid-2012.
"The unilateral actions undertaken by the Greek Cypriots for oil exploration and to determine areas of maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean constitute a serious risk," said Beşir Atalay, a deputy Prime Minister of Turkey.
"If you are sincere about a solution, then you should refrain from doing these things and not create new problem areas," he was quoted as saying by the state-run Anatolia news agency prior to leaving Turkey for Turkish Cyprus for a four-day visit.
Timing of the drilling itself, however, is unrelated to the Cyprus talks and stipulated in contractual obligations between Greek Cyprus and Noble, the US company poised to launch an exploratory drill in one offshore sector southeast of Cyprus around the beginning of October.
Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias on Tuesday denounced what he said were Turkish threats and said the island would press ahead with drilling as its sovereign right.
Noble reported a massive gas discovery off Israel, and close to the Cypriot field, last year.