- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2012

NEW YORK — The discovery of vast reserves of oil and natural gas off the coast of Cyprus has ignited hope for stalled talks to reunify the Mediterranean island, which is split into an internationally recognized ethnic-Greek south and an ethnic-Turkish north.

More than 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was discovered when Greek-Cypriots began offshore exploration earlier this year.

“These new prospects of natural gas exploitation could be a very strong incentive for reunification of the island,” Cyprus‘ Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis told The Washington Times in an interview in New York, where she was attending the U.N. General Assembly session.

Cyprus was split in 1974, when Turkey invaded to protect Turkish-Cypriots after a coup by supporters of a Greek military junta attempted to unify the island with mainland Greece. Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Cyprus and is the only country that recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Recent geological surveys have concluded that the eastern Mediterranean — especially the area around Cyprus, Egypt, Israel and Lebanon — has about 450,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

“Potentially, this area of the eastern Mediterranean could be a new corridor for natural gas exports to Europe, but also to other countries,” said Ms. Kozakou-Marcoullis.

“Reunification will mean cooperation between the two communities in a joint government, a federal government where both communities will be benefiting from this treasure that we have,” she said. “The prospects are huge for not only our generation, but also for many, many generations to come.”

Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu presented U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with a proposal to use money from the sale of oil and natural gas to finance reunification of the island when the two leaders met in New York on Sept. 29.

Neither the Turkish Cypriots nor the Greek Cypriots have earned any revenue from the hydrocarbons so far.

Ms. Kozakou-Marcoullis declined to comment on Mr. Eroglu’s proposal because she had not seen it at the time of the interview.

Ahmet Erdengiz, the Turkish-Cypriot representative in Washington, said the proposal is important because any solution to the division of the island would be costly. He said it would also require a substantial amount of money for reconstruction, compensation for landowners on both sides and for resettlement of Cypriots uprooted after the failed coup.

“Our proposal aims to create a catalyst out of hydrocarbon resources for a comprehensive settlement,” said Mr. Erdengiz.

“If the Greek Cypriot side agrees to exploit and explore these resources jointly and then use these resources for financing a comprehensive settlement, it can definitely become a catalyst; but if they decide to explore and exploit these resources unilaterally and deny the benefits from the Turkish Cypriots, then it cannot be a catalyst or a solution,” he added.

The Greek-Cypriots are proceeding with a second round of licensing for hydrocarbon exploration.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus signed an agreement with state-run Turkish Petroleum Corporation in April to start exploratory drilling on land. That exploration will be extended offshore.

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