Ankara silent on Qatar’s role in gas exploration off Cyprus - BBC Turkish

Turkey objects to the Greek Cypriot state stepping up efforts for gas exploration and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, but it has so far remained silent about Qatar’s role in those efforts, BBC Turkish reported on Friday.

Exploration and drilling of natural gas reserves around Cyprus - split in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup - is a contentious topic between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey, which is the only country to recognise the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of the island. Turkey says Turkish Cypriots should also have a say in gas exploration and a share of any revenues.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry last month warned energy companies against working with the Greek Cypriot government in carrying out exploratory drilling in the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean.

The ministry specifically referred to exploratory drilling by U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil on Nov. 18, which the company is carrying out with permission from the Greek Cypriot government. It said that such activities did not contribute to the stability of the region.

An exploration and production sharing contract signed by Qatar Petroleum and ExxonMobil with the Republic of Cyprus for offshore Block 10 entered into force on Nov. 15.

While criticising ExxonMobil’s exploratory drilling off Cyprus' southwestern coast, the Turkish ministry did not mention the company’s partner Qatar Petroleum in its statement.

Doha and Ankara, both staunch supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, have become close allies in the Middle East in recent years. Turkey was an outspoken critic of the blockade against the gas-rich emirate by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries in June last year, maintains a military base in Qatar and has sent reinforcements to the Gulf state.

Qatar pledged in August to invest $15 billion in Turkey, when the lira hit a record low against the U.S. dollar following a diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington.

In October, Qatar gifted Turkey an ultra-luxury Boeing 747-8i jet valued at $500 million.

In November, during a visit by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to Istanbul, the two countries reached agreements on a wide range of issues, including cooperation in the areas of security and the military.

Meanwhile, Doha is also trying to strengthen its economic and diplomatic ties with Greece.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman ami Aksoy declined to answer questions on Qatar’s partnership in ExxonMobil’s gas drilling efforts, BBC Turkish said.

An unnamed source in the ministry told the BBC that Qatar’s steps would inevitably create problems, adding that Turkey did not voice its concerns openly due to the strong partnership between the two countries.

Turkey has been remaining silent for now for three reasons, according to the BBC Turkish source. First of all, ExxonMobil is the primary operator in gas drilling, and secondly Qatar Petroleum did not send its own vessels to Block 10, where the drilling is taking place. In addition to that, Turkey has not made any territorial claims for the regions where ExxonMobil is conducting gas exploration.

Turkey’s statements are also sending a message to Qatar, though they do not mention Qatar Petroleum directly, BBC Turkish cited the same source as saying.

Ankara has expressed its discomfort to Doha behind closed doors regarding the unilateral efforts of the Cypriot government for gas exploration, the source also said.

A diplomatic source in Qatar told BBC Turkish that the partnership with ExxonMobil would not affect Turkish-Qatari relations, as ExxonMobil’s gas exploration had started in an undisputed area.