Exclusive: United States backs Cyprus rights to gas exploration

The United States has weighed in on the mounting dispute over gas exploration rights around the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, telling Ahval that it supports the right of the Republic of Cyprus right to explore its waters for potentially valuable gas resources.

"‎The U.S. policy on Cyprus’s EEZ is long-standing and has not changed: the United States recognises the right of the Republic of Cyprus to develop its resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone,” a State Department spokesperson told Ahval.

The discovery of vast gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has prompted a rush of investment since 2009, with the discovery of the record-breaking Zohr gas field in Egyptian waters particularly exciting news for Cyprus, whose exclusive economic zone borders the estimated 30 trillion cubic feet gas fields.

But the activity around Cyprus has ruffled feathers in Turkey, the only country which does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus since the island was split between a Turkish Cypriot north and Greek Cypriot south in 1974. The government in the south is internationally recognised as the Republic of Cyprus.

Turkey has demanded the Greek Cypriot government secure permission from the Turkish north before carrying out gas exploration, calling a deal between Egypt and the Republic of Cyprus a contravention of Turkish Cypriots’ “inalienable rights”, and has vowed to carry out its own exploration off the island.

Turkey also obstructed a gas exploration vessel belonging to Italian energy giant Eni from entering the area in February, prompting criticism from the European Union and Greece.  

The U.S. State Department spokesperson suggested the dispute would be best solved through an overall solution to the Cyprus dispute. 

“We continue to believe the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement,” said the spokesperson. “We discourage any actions or rhetoric that increase tensions in the region."

The Republic of Cyprus is expected to lodge a protest with the United Nations over moves by Turkey to prevent the Italian vessel from exploring for gas in the eastern Mediterranean.  

Turkey will face a confrontation with Egypt if it does not respect Cairo’s rights for gas exploration won in a deal with Cyprus, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid warned early in February.

Following more than a week of the Turkish navy blocking Eni's vessel, U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil announced plans to send two surveying vessels to Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone despite the ongoing dispute.