Bülent Keneş Todays' Zaman
Weary of a lingering political tension undermining potential large-scale energy deals in its surrounding region, Turkey sees it possible to cooperate with Greek Cyprus and Israel in joint energy projects in the Mediterranean “so long as the political atmosphere allows it,” Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız told a meeting in Baku on Monday.
“In case of a possible remedy to political issues that remain a gridlock hindering further prosperity in our region, Turkey will be ready to take steps in order to ensure a lasting peace environment,” Yıldız said in a rare statement of what can be regarded as "extending an olive branch.”
Underlining that a recent Israeli apology to Ankara over the Mavi Marmara raid should not be seen as an excuse for future energy partnerships with this country, Yıldız told reporters: “But it is possible that a cooperation in energy between Turkey and Israel follow an anticipated rapprochement.” He said Turkey will then “not only warm to partnering in energy deals with Israel but also would like to see Greek Cyprus be involved here.”
But the minister has some reservations as he cites a single condition Turkey has long seen as vital: Greek Cyprus abiding by international law. “If we are able to make sure the energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean are made use of in line with international law, this will be an opportunity for regional peace and stability,” Yıldız said. “If we see the energy plans that are against international law continue, then this is a threat to regional security.”
Turkey has long warned the Greek Cypriot government against unilateral moves to extract natural gas and oil reserves off Cyprus, saying the Turkish Cypriots, who run their own state in the north of the island, also have a say on these reserves. The dispute escalated recently when reports surfaced that hydrocarbon exploration rights were part of the Russia-Greek Cyprus talks last week over a possible deal on Russian financial help.
The disputed Cyprus Block 12 (Aphrodite field) is estimated to hold between 5 and 8 trillion cubic feet (tcf), or between 142 and 227 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas. Ignoring Turkish calls, Greek Cyprus has already signed deals with some leading energy firms to drill in Aphrodite including Noble Energy from the US and Italy's Eni.
Yıldız's comments follow earlier remarks by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who, for the first time in 30 years, said Ankara would consider supporting a two-state solution on the island in order to claim the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the energy reserves. Ankara frets over the idea that Greek Cyprus insists on using hydrocarbon reserves off the island to overcome its debt crisis without the consent of the Turkish Cypriots. “The Greek Cypriot administration will have to rely on Turkey to export the natural gas it hopes to extract from eastern Mediterranean fields,” Davutoğlu said last month.
Speaking to participants at the forum earlier in the day, Yıldız said massive projects between separate countries in this region requires careful analysis as the economies become more globalized and countries arrange their policies to make it more attractive internationally. Touching on Turkey's development in the past decade, he explained that the country has become stronger by implementation of reforms and now has opportunities to develop many projects with many countries.
Yıldız said the region will enhance its power by continuing its political stability and move forward by using energy as a reason for peace. “We have developed projects with Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Iraq while keeping away from the political commentary. Also we continue to provide Syria with electricity, even though the politics of the state is not approved of, the same with the Greek Cyprus government,” he said.
Noting that Turkey's contribution to the region continues to grow with the advantages of its geographical location, which stands as a bridge between consumer Europe and producer Asia and the Middle East, Yıldız underlined Turkey will continue its positive approach to contribute to peace in the region.
Large regional projects have Turkey's supportYıldız promised that development of significant projects concerning the South Caucasus and Central Asia region would continue to receive Turkey's support.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Deputy Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Djoomart Otorbaev, World Economic Forum Executive Director Bren Borge, US Ambassador to Baku Richard Morningstar, Azerbaijan Industry and Energy Minister Natiq Aliyev and First Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Baklytzhan Sagintayev were among the participants at Monday's forum.
Yıldız noted Turkey's strategic relations with Russia on energy, calling it a “mutual dependency” and said as Turkey relies on natural gas imports from Russia and their help in constructing nuclear power plant, Turkey continues to open its borders for Russian natural gas to be exported to third countries. He also reminded that the US had passed on its concerns regarding this relationship and said, “We also had called on US three times before to take part in our projects,” while repeating his call. Explaining that Turkey's energy projects do not represent a barrier to each other, he commented, “While letting Russian blue stream pipeline to pass through the Black sea, we also have American companies searching for petroleum in the same sea.”
Also speaking at the meeting held with Yıldız, SOCAR President Rovnag Abdullayev said the company will invest $17 billion in Turkey in the next five years, stating that the investments will be the largest foreign direct investment of the republic's history. “On top of economic investments. SOCAR also contributed to social projects in the country that includes constructing five vocational higher educational institutions,” he concluded.