- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2007

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Oil and natural gas deposits possibly worth $400 billion are raising tension in the eastern Mediterranean with Turkey threatening to block exploration that does not include Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot interests.

Banner headlines in the Greek-Cypriot press yesterday reported unexpected movement of Turkish warships along the southern coast of Cyprus and blamed Turkey for “muscle flexing” in connection with the oil and gas exploration plans.

Turkish television channel NTV said the warships had been sent as a warning that Ankara “would safeguard its rights in the area.”

Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chief of Turkey’s General Staff, said the movement was a routine patrol in the Mediterranean. “There was no need to send new warships,” the Turkish press quoted him as saying.

The Greek-Cypriot government recently signed an agreement with Lebanon and Egypt for joint exploration in an area 125 miles wide between Cyprus and the Mediterranean’s southern coast.

A Norwegian energy-consulting company has begun a survey of the area, with an initial estimate of potential energy wealth at more than $400 billion.

A Turkish government statement said the Greek-Cypriot government “does not represent the whole of the island” and warned that “its agreements with other interested parties have no validity for us.”

Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat said Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus “hold rights” over all natural resources on the island and its vicinity.

“We are partners in everything that goes on in Cyprus and will not allow our interests to be harmed,” Mr. Talat said.

A Greek-Cypriot government spokesman described the Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot statements as “unacceptable provocation” and a threat to peace in the area.

“Turkey is openly threatening,” headlined the Greek-Cypriot daily Alithia. “Delirious audacity,” trumpeted the island’s communist organ Haragvi.

The Greek government in Athens immediately sided with the Greek Cypriots, warning of a major crisis ahead. The consequences include more difficulties in Turkey’s tenuous path to European Union membership and possible escalation of war games in the Aegean Sea.

In the mid-1970s, the appearance of Turkish and Greek petroleum-research ships caused a military alert in the Aegean, with both sides watching each other through gunsights. Eventually, both accepted a U.N. resolution urging restraint.

The latest events are taking place against a backdrop of paralysis in negotiations to solve the partition of Cyprus divided between two opposed ethnic communities, with the Greek Cypriots enjoying international recognition.

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