Greece urged NATO partner Turkey on Friday to stop harassing Cyprus while it looks to exploit offshore natural gas fields, wading into a dispute that has complicated peace efforts on the ethnically-split island.
Cyprus, which is a member of the European Union, is keen to develop gas reserves to the south of the Mediterranean island.
Turkey does not recognise Cyprus, which is ethnically split between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations, and has reportedly dispatched a ship to collect seismic data in the disputed waters – a precursor for possible gas exploration.
The row prompted Greek Cypriots to suspend peace talks with estranged Turkish Cypriots last month. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said he fully supported the decision, accusing Turkey of trying to provoke Cyprus.
“Provocations cannot be ignored, nor can they be rewarded,” he said during a visit to Nicosia. “We hope Turkey will reconsider, to allow talks to resume.”
Cypriot authorities say a Turkish research vessel, the Barbaros, has been sailing in waters close to exploration sites that Cyprus has already licensed to Italy’s ENI, France’s Total and U.S. Noble Energy.
Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup and is a conflict which has harmed Greco-Turkish relations for decades.
Efforts to resolve the island’s decades-old partition has come into sharper focus following the discovery of huge quantities of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean.
The island reported its first find in 2011, with a reservoir containing an estimated 5 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas. It borders on waters Cyprus shares with Israel, which has recorded some of the world’s biggest finds in the past decade.
Turkey, which supports a breakaway state in north Cyprus, disputes Nicosia’s rights to search for gas.
Greek Cypriots, who run Cyprus’s internationally recognised government, say Turkish Cypriots can share potential benefits, but only when there is a peace deal.
“Hydrocarbons in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone belong to the Republic of Cyprus, and, post-settlement, any revenue from exploitation will benefit all of Cyprus’s legal residents,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said.
Samaras and Anastasiades were due to travel to Egypt for a meeting with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi on Saturday. Talks were to focus on energy cooperation, Cypriot officials said.