US backs Cyprus offshore energy hunt amid Turkey dispute

AFP , Friday 16 Mar 2018

A senior US diplomat said Friday that Washington supported the energy search by Cyprus for offshore oil and gas after a standoff with Turkey.

"The United States support the Republic of Cyprus in its right to develop natural resources including in the Exclusive Economic Zone," said Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell.

He made the comments after meeting Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades during a fact-finding mission to the island.

"We are very supportive of the Republic of Cyprus and appreciate the long-standing friendship that we have," said Mitchell, before later holding separate talks with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.

His visit comes weeks after Cyprus was embroiled in a standoff that saw Turkish warships block an Italian drillship from exploring for gas in the island's politically sensitive waters.

The US diplomat's visit comes as two survey vessels from US energy giant ExxonMobil have arrived off Cyprus to conduct preliminary investigations ahead of planned exploration later this year.

Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup.

Turkey and Cyprus have long argued over the eastern Mediterranean, and Ankara has been stringent in defending the claims of Turkish Cypriots for a share of energy resources.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned foreign energy companies not to "overstep the mark" in the eastern Mediterranean.

The standoff over exploiting energy resources in the region risks further complicating stalled efforts to reunify Cyprus after UN-backed talks collapsed last year.

Mitchell said Washington also wanted to see a resumption of the negotiations that broke down in acrimony in July.

While the Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus is internationally recognised, the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Ankara.

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