Israel-Lebanon oil and gas row
Washington is taking a more serious approach to the East Med energy search and will not allow Cyprus to be pushed around by Turkey within the Republic’s EEZ.
“We have been clear to Turkish officials that harassment of drilling vessels in the Cyprus EEZ is not something we will allow to go unnoticed or not speak up about,” said US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned foreign energy companies not to “overstep the mark” in the Mediterranean after Turkey’s warships blocked an ENI drillship offshore Cyprus on February 9.
Since that incident Italy’s ENI, France’s Total and America’s ExxonMobil have all said they are committed to honouring their license agreement with the Republic of Cyprus.
US energy giant ExxonMobil – with Qatar Petroleum – is scheduled to conduct drilling off Cyprus in the second half of 2018.
Mitchell made the comments during a speech to the Heritage Foundation where he outlined the Trump administration’s more focused approached to regional energy security.
“I see the East Mediterranean as a southern extension of a lot of the problems we are dealing with on the eastern frontier of Europe,” said Mitchell.
“There’s a lot at stake for European energy security and one aspect of this is building on the pre-existing foundation of very strong counter terrorism cooperation with Cyprus,” he added.
The US official said the United States had to take the region and developments in the region more seriously as a strategic area.
“In the same way we have to be more serious about undertaking that across the Eastern frontier,” said Mitchell.
He said Washington was also working hard on building up a political relationship with Nicosia on security, ‘Russian disinformation’ and Russia money on Cyprus.
“It’s an area that needs to be cultivated and we’ve made a lot of progress in doing that.”
Turning the East Med into an energy hub also involves getting neighbours such as Israel and Lebanon to resolve their disputes over maritime demarcation.
New ideas proposed in US back-channel mediation of an Israeli-Lebanese maritime dispute over oil and gas exploration raise the prospect of a partial deal this year.
Israel launched the East Med gas bonanza almost a decade ago with the discovery of two huge gas fields.
Others were found in Egypt and Cyprus, and companies are now exploring Lebanese waters as well.
One of the Lebanese blocks being explored, borders Israel’s maritime zone and contains waters claimed by both countries.