Erdogan, Eroglu, Cyprus offshore gas exploration - Reuters - 21.9.11
Turkish Cypriot Leader Dervish Eroglu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan attending a signing ceremony to pave the way for offshore gas exploration, New York, September 21, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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The leaders of Turkey and Greece on Monday discussed a dispute over oil and gas drilling off the divided island of Cyprus, officials from both countries said.

Cyprus is divided into a Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north. The southern government began exploratory drilling for oil and gas last week, prompting strong protests from Turkey, which doesn't recognize the Greek Cypriot administration. Turkey signed an oil and gas exploration deal with the Turkish Cypriots and sent a Turkish research to the Mediterranean to start oil and gas exploration in response.

Greek government spokesman Elias Mosialos said Prime Minister George Papandreou urged "restraint" by all countries in the east Mediterranean during a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Papandreou also said Athens backs Cyprus' activities that remain within its sovereign rights.

Erdogan, for his part, insisted that "unilateral" exploration by the north could damage the island's reunification talks and said the Greek Cypriot government should not begin drilling or exploiting any possible discoveries until a peace accord has been reached, according to an official who spoke on anonymity in line with government rules.

Greece says any deal between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot North to explore for fuel is invalid under international law, since Turkey is the only country that recognizes the North.

Meanwhile, Cyprus' government urged Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots to work toward a peace accord so that the island's two communities can "enjoy the fruit of their cooperation," including any potential oil and gas wealth under a reunified state.

Cyprus government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said that if a peace deal isn't reached before the island starts reaping gas revenues, ways will be sought so that Turkish Cypriots would also benefit as citizens of the Cyprus Republic. He didn't specify how Turkish Cypriots would stand to benefit, saying that would be studied in due course.

He said Turkey would also benefit from post-settlement through agreements it would sign with Cyprus, including on matters pertaining to energy.

Stefanou repeated that Cyprus has international backing for its offshore gas bid and said a second licensing round for the other areas inside the island's exclusive economic zone would proceed. He did not specify when that would take place.

Cyprus licensed U.S.-based Noble Energy to search for oil and gas near recently discovered Israeli offshore fields that contain more than 450 billion cubic meters (15.9 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas. Cyprus is exploring areas near where Israel discovered gas.