By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday underscored Cyprus' potential to become key provider of natural gas to Europe, saying that newly discovered offshore reserves of the fossil fuel represented a unique opportunity for the divided island nation.
"Cyprus is poised to become a key player ... transforming the eastern Mediterranean into a new global hub for natural gas," Biden said on the second day of his visit following a lunch hosted by Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades.
Anastasiades said the gas deposits, which also have been found in Israeli waters, can offer "an alternative energy corridor leading to increased energy security." He said the discovery could "transform the regional geopolitical landscape and become a force for stability, prosperity and peace."
The West wants to develop alternative suppliers of natural gas for Europe. Russia, the current top supplier, has threatened it could cut supplies or raise prices to European customers as part of diplomatic rifts over Ukraine.
Biden pledged U.S. government support for efforts to reunifying the island. In 1974, Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. For the past four decades the island has remained divided into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south.
Turkey, which doesn't recognize Cyprus' sovereignty, has voiced strong opposition to the Cypriot claims to the natural gas fields. It says the offshore energy search infringes on the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the entire territory's mineral wealth and has sent warship-escorted research vessels into Cypriot waters to underscore their claim.
Only Turkey recognizes a 1983 Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains 35,000 troops in the north.
Anastasiades said he had "no doubt" that strong U.S. support would help secure Cyprus' rights to exploit its natural resources over Turkish objections.
Analysts say Israel, which already has developed natural gas fields in its waters, may want to utilize Cyprus as a terminus for future pipelines as its own industry expands in the eastern Mediterranean.
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