Cypriot President Demetris Christofias (L) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Cypriot President Demetris Christofias (L) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon his arrival for a meeting in Nicosia. Netanyahu's landmark visit to Cyprus is aimed at highlighting an unprecedented warming of ties between the two nations which have struck rich with natural gas finds. © Andreas Lazarou - AFP
Cypriot President Demetris Christofias (L) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Charlie Charalambous, AFP
Last updated: February 16, 2012

Energy tops agenda as Netanyahu visits Cyprus

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks in Nicosia Thursday with Cypriot leaders on energy cooperation and economic ties, during a landmark visit to the east Mediterranean island.

"I came here to develop our bilateral ties, economic ties, and our ties in the field of energy," he said after talks at the presidential palace in Nicosia with President Demetris Christofias.

"The one area we are looking into now is the field of energy, gas findings."

Both Israel and Cyprus have discovered huge offshore natural gas deposits beneath the Mediterranean Sea separating them, and have tentatively discussed cooperation on delivering gas to European and Asian markets.

"We are looking within the next two months to complete a joint study to see how we can transfer this cooperation in practical economic terms," said Netanyahu on his one-day visit, the first ever by an Israeli premier.

"Cooperation can help because scaled projects require scale and if you have more than one partner it might be advantageous.

"This is something which President Christofias and I spoke about, because a regional approach perhaps beginning with cooperation between Cyprus and Israel could extend to others if they chose to enter it."

Israel's Delek Energy and US firm Noble Energy have struck gas offshore at the Tamar and Leviathan fields, 130 kilometres (81 miles) off Haifa, and more recently at the Tanin 1 field, also near the northern port city.

Late last year, Noble said it had discovered gas reserves of up to 8 trillion cubic feet (225 billion cubic metres) beneath the seabed just south of Cyprus.

"Our common effort and goal is the best possible utilisation of these reserves for the benefit of the peoples of the two countries, as well as for the consolidation of peace and stability in the region," Christofias told reporters after his talks with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu said the first aim of the two countries was a unitisation agreement -- "the demarcation, the usage and exploitation on either side."

"Then we talked about the possibility, we haven't made a decision about a common pipeline -- it's about 40 kilometres between the two gas fields -- but we have to examine if this makes sense."

"We have to examine the question of LNG facilities: this could be in the direction of Europe through Cyprus or could be in the direction of Asia through Israel," Netanyahu said.

"So all these possibilities have to be examined in terms of feasibility, in terms of economic sense, in terms of investment.

"These are precisely the studies taking place right now and it tells you what kind of grand opportunities they are."

Netanyahu's visit comes with ties at an all-time low between Israel and Turkey, which occupied the northern third of Cyprus in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup seeking union with Greece.

In May 2010, Israeli forces launched a deadly raid on a flotilla of aid ships bound for the Gaza Strip, leaving nine Turkish nationals dead.

Cyprus is also locked in a row with Turkey over maritime gas exploration rights.

Christofias accused Turkey of threatening Cyprus over its decision on Monday to launch a second licensing round for offshore oil and gas exploration blocks.

He urged the international community, "especially the European Union" to send a strong message to Turkey that it must stop violating and start respecting international law -- especially if it looks forward to becoming a member of the European family."

Netanyahu told reporters: "We are interested in developing peaceful relations for the benefit of our two countries and the region as a whole.

"This is what I can say and this is what we mean, we have no ulterior motives and no hidden motives here," he said in response to question about Israel helping Cyprus against Turkish threats.

"This is our motive and this is what we seek -- a peaceful development of mutual relations for the benefit and prosperity of our two peoples and entire region."

Christofias said: "It is not us that threatens Turkey, it is Turkey that threatens us -- this is the problem. The true troublemaker is Turkey and not the cooperation between Israel and Cyprus."

Both countries marked the visit on Thursday by signing an agreement to coordinate maritime search and rescue operations.

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