June 7, 2019 / 6:18 PM / 8 days ago

Ankara presses Turkish Cypriots' resources claim after Cyprus agrees gas deal

ISTANBUL/ATHENS (Reuters) - Turkey said on Friday that Turkish Cypriots had rights to a share of the island’s offshore resources, days after the Greek Cypriot government agreed a revenue deal with a U.S. firm over a gas find in the eastern Mediterranean.

FILE PHOTO: The Turkish national flag hangs in the foreground as drilling vessel Fatih is seen off the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Turkey October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kaan Soyturk

Turkey and the internationally recognized Cypriot government have overlapping claims of jurisdiction for offshore oil and gas research in that part of the Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich in natural gas.

On Wednesday, Cypriot officials said authorities had agreed a production-sharing deal with U.S.-based Noble Energy and partners over commercial exploitation of Aphrodite, an offshore gas field being developed southeast of the island.

The deal makes no reference to the Turkish Cypriots and they are not being offered a share of the revenues, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said on Friday.

But the parties to the deal “cannot ignore the fact that Turkish Cypriots are co-owners of the island and that they have equal rights on (its) oil and gas resources,” he said in a statement.

Cypriot Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis said the deal had the potential to bring the island more than $9 billion in revenue over the estimated 18-year lifespan of the reservoir.

Earlier on Friday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was determined to defend the rights of Turkish Cypriots, and said drilling and exploration ships under the protection of the country’s navy were “transitioning to the region.”

The United States and European Union last month expressed deep concern after Turkey said it was starting to drill in the region, adding to tensions between Ankara and its Western allies.

Breakaway north Cyprus, supported by Turkey, claims a share in any offshore wealth as a partner in the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960.

The island was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Several peacemaking endeavors have failed and the discovery of offshore resources has increasingly complicated peace negotiations.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Michele Kambas; editing by John Stonestreet

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