Cypriot Pres: Lebanon, Egypt Oil Exploration Deals to Go Ahead

ATHENS Feb.12, 2007 (AP)

The president of Cyprus said in a newspaper interview published Sunday that he has received assurances from Egypt and Lebanon that they will go ahead with oil and gas exploration deals with the island despite threats from Turkey.

Cyprus signed a deal with Lebanon last month to mark out their undersea border to facilitate future oil and gas exploration. It signed a similar deal with Egypt last year and agreed to jointly exploit potential oil and gas fields.

Turkey protested the deals, saying it had "legitimate and legal rights and interests" in the eastern Mediterranean. It insisted Turkish Cypriots should also have a say in the island's oil and gas rights.

In his first comments since Turkey warned Egypt and Lebanon not to press ahead with the deal, Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said he received assurances from both countries that they will honor their agreements.

"The reassurances we have is that they - Lebanon and Egypt - will respect the bilateral agreements we have signed," Papadopoulos said in an interview with the To Vima newspaper.

Bidding will begin Feb. 15 for offshore oil and gas exploration licenses, Papadopoulos said. Evaluation of applications will take place over the next six months.

The first round of exploration licensing involves 11 offshore blocks totaling around 60,000 square kilometers.

Papadopoulos said Cyprus won't surrender its sovereign rights and "won't bow to threats."

"The national wealth belongs to the sovereign state, which is called the Republic of Cyprus, and not to one or the other community or groups of citizens," Papadopoulos said. "We aren't the ones who are being provocative and illegal."

Turkey doesn't recognize the island's Greek Cypriot government, and instead backs a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north. The island has been divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974, triggered by a Greek Cypriot coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece.

According to Papadopoulos, a survey was "encouraging." But he said it could take "six or seven years before Cyprus could benefit."

The Norwegian company PGS Geophysical AS recently completed a two-dimensional seismic survey of the area - covering some 70,000 square kilometers to the south, southwest and southeast of Cyprus.

Papadopoulos said he was confident a solution to the island's division will be found by the time any deposits are ready for exploitation.

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