Turkish cypriot leader_ gas may fund peace deal _ the salt lake tribune

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci is seen at his office in front of the portrait of the Turkish Republic founder Kemal Ataturk, during an interview for the Associated Press in the Turkish breakaway north part of the divided capital Nicosia in this ethnically Mediterranean island of Cyprus, Monday, April 4, 2016. The leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots says the ethnically divided island’s potential wealth from newly found offshore gas deposits could partly pay for a costly reunification deal. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci is seen at his office in front of the portrait of the Turkish Republic founder Kemal Ataturk, during an interview for the Associated Press in the Turkish breakaway north part of the divided capital Nicosia in this ethnically Mediterranean island of Cyprus, Monday, April 4, 2016. The leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots says the ethnically divided island’s potential wealth from newly found offshore gas deposits could partly pay for a costly reunification deal. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Nicosia, Cyprus • Cyprus’ potential wealth from newly found offshore gas reserves could be used to partly fund a costly deal reunifying the ethnically divided island, the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots said Monday.

Mustafa Akinci said natural gas could boost energy cooperation between Israel, Cyprus and Turkey and foster peace in a tumultuous region, but warned unilateral drilling by Greek Cypriots could re-ignite tensions.

“Definitely (gas is) going to be an asset, if wisely prepared and conducted in a way not to trigger yet (more) tension in the area,” Akinci told The Associated Press in an interview.

Akinci criticized the island’s Greek Cypriot-run, internationally recognized government for launching last month a third round for offshore gas drilling licenses despite an “understanding” by both sides that there’s “no urgency on drilling.”

He said exploratory drilling in waters off Cyprus’ southern coastline in 2014 led to peace talks breaking off amid a running dispute over rights to the divided island’s offshore mineral wealth.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades halted peace talks with Akinci’s predecessor in July 2014 in response to a Turkish oil and gas search in waters where the Cypriot government had already licensed companies to drill. Talks recommenced in May last year.

Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state and insists a unilateral Greek Cypriot oil and gas search flouts the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the island’s potential hydrocarbon riches. Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and it maintains more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north.

“My understanding was that when we started the negotiation this was not going to create trouble for our process,” said Akinci. “Now I see the potential danger.”

U. S. company Noble Energy discovered a field around 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Cyprus that’s estimated to contain more than four trillion cubic feet of gas. France’s Total and Eni along with its South Korean partner KOGAS are also licensed to drill off Cyprus.

Akinci said “we are closer than ever before” to a peace deal, but the pace of negotiations has slowed down because of parliamentary elections in the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south next month.

He said Turkish Cypriots should remain a majority in the area that they will administer within an envisioned two-zone federation.

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