ANKARA, March 21 Turkey could challenge any move
by Cyprus to speed up offshore natural gas exploration as a way
of attracting desperately needed investment to save its
teetering economy, senior Turkish officials said on Thursday.
The European Union has given the island until Monday to
raise the billions of euros it needs to clinch an international
bailout or face the collapse of its financial system and likely
exit from the euro currency zone.
Cyprus is in talks with Moscow over possible Russian
investments. Cypriot Finance Minister Michael Sarris has
identified the divided island's offshore gas riches as one area
in which Russia could invest.
"This resource belongs to two communities and the future of
this resource can't be subject to the will of southern Cyprus
alone. (We) may act against such initiatives if necessary," one
of the Turkish officials told Reuters.
"The exclusive use of this resource ... by Southern Cyprus
is out of question ... and unacceptable."
Cyprus has been divided between the Greek Cypriot south and
Turkish north since a Greek coup d'etat followed by a Turkish
army invasion in 1974. Efforts to reunite the island have
repeatedly failed and Turkey is the only nation to recognise the
self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Cypriot efforts to monetise as yet undeveloped offshore gas
fields and position them as a vital source of energy for Europe
have raised tensions with Turkey, which demands a joint approach
and a share of the revenue.
"We are discussing all legal means ... We could take the
case to the European Union but we will use all political and
legal channels," the official said without elaborating.
Moscow would tighten its grip on European supplies if it
invested in natural gas fields in the Mediterranean south of
Cyprus as part of a deal to solve the island's financial crisis.
So far, some 200 billion cubic metres of natural gas worth
$80 billion at current prices have been discovered in the
Aphrodite gas field in Cypriot waters, although the figures
still have to be audited.
That would be enough to cover around 40 percent of the
European Union's annual gas consumption.
Cyprus hopes to start exporting in 2018, but energy analysts
say extracting the gas will prove costly and slow, and Cypriot
supplies may run into a global glut, with shale gas plentiful by
then in North America, Russia and even Europe.