NICOSIA (Reuters) - The frontrunner in Greece’s parliamentary election said on Monday the indebted country should set out the borders of an offshore economic exploitation zone, a step towards hydrocarbon exploration that could antagonize its longterm rival Turkey.
Conservative New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said he believed Greece should follow Cyprus’s example in defining a maritime boundary, which is normally a precursor to exploring offshore for oil and gas.
Such a move could escalate festering arguments between Turkey and Greece over land, air, sea and sea-floor borders in the Aegean, if the proposed zone crosses into disputed territory.
Both countries have come to the brink of conflict over territorial rights in the past. They are also at loggerheads over Cyprus, an island ethnically split between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
“We believe that Greece should undertake corresponding specific initiatives such as those taken by the late (Cypriot) President Tassos Papadopoulos in recognizing an EEZ (economic exploitation zone),” Samaras told reporters in Cyprus.
His party is leading in opinion polls ahead of an election expected in Greece in April.
“The existence of sub-sea wealth shows the depth of a common strategy which can be developed between Cyprus and Greece on issues of economy as well,” he said.
“What is happening today with the EEZ of Cyprus is very important to the Aegean, (and) to what could occur with the Greek EEZ in the Aegean,” he added. Sameras did not say exactly where the zone would lie.
Ankara questions the jurisdiction of Cyprus’s internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot government in exploring for oil and gas.
Cyprus, an EU member, has rebuffed Turkish claims and defined its EEZ in 2004. Since then it has defined its maritime boundaries with Egypt and Israel, where vast amounts of natural gas have been discovered in the past two years.
Cyprus recently found up to 8 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas in an area south of the Mediterranean island. Just south of its own boundary, Israel has reported natural gas discoveries worth billions of dollars.
Turkey last week warned the island risked stoking tension in the region by embarking on a second hydrocarbon licensing round for offshore plots rimming Cyprus’s south.
It said five of the 12 plots included in the round encroached on Turkey’s continental shelf, an assertion Cyprus denied.
Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek inspired coup.
Greece’s government has been looking into starting oil exploration in the country’s west in a bid to attract investment, boost state revenues and lower spiraling debt.
Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Andrew Heavens