Syria and Cyprus Agree to Joint Oil Exploration Project

Syria's Petroleum Minister Mohamad Maher Jamal agreed to cooperate with Cyprus' efforts to tap lucrative oil and gas deposits off the East Mediterranean island. By the end of 2001 Syria and Cyprus hope to conclude a bilateral agreement to mark out a continental shelf and establish the territorial economic zones of each country. The announcement was made after the Syrian minister had talks in Nicosia with Cypriot Commerce Minister Nicos Rolandis.

"We discussed sea resources such as oil in the 54 nautical mile stretch between Cyprus and Syria," said Rolandis. "Although Syria has extended its exclusion zone to 35 nautical miles the Syrian minister said he would cooperate in resolving the matter based on international law," he added.

He explained that Syria had not signed the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention but was willing to apply its provisions to conclude a bilateral agreement with Nicosia. The prospect of huge oil and gas reserves close to Cyprus has prompted the government to seek delineation of its continental shelf for exploitation. The demarcation of an economic exclusion zone - to ward off neighboring countries encroaching on lucrative resources - also involves discussions with Egypt, Lebanon and Israel.

"The response from Syria was positive and friendly," said Rolandis. "My colleague assured me that a deal determining the sea area of each country would be reached by the end of the year."

The issue of Syria supplying natural gas to Cyprus was also discussed. However, building a multi-million pipeline to the island's southern coast from Syria would be necessary to make the arrangement possible. "An offer to supply natural gas would need the construction of a pipeline at a cost of between 200 and 250 million dollars. There are other options but the Syrian proposal will be examined," said Rolandis. He probed a joint Cyprus-Egypt oil exploration venture during a visit to Cairo last December. Egypt's oil Minister Sameh Fahmy is expected to visit Cyprus in September. According to local media the government has evidence of large oil and gas deposits located between Israel, Syria, Egypt and Cyprus.


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