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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The United States sees “great promise” in developing energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean, a U.S. state department official said Friday, as ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum began exploratory drilling off Cyprus’ southwestern coast.

Francis Fannon, the Assistant Secretary of State responsible for energy matters, said the U.S. will continue advancing energy development in the region as a priority.

“We view energy as a catalyst for cooperation and economic development to benefit all the people in the region and Cyprus has a meaningful role to that end,” Fannon said after a meeting with Cypriot Energy Minister Georgios Lakkotrypis.

“We’re very excited about developments ongoing in the region and we see great promise.”

Fannon repeated Washington’s support for Cyprus’ own hydrocarbons search, adding that the ethnically divided country’s resource wealth should be shared with all Cypriots equitably as part of a reunification deal.

Turkey strongly objects to exploratory drilling off Cyprus because it claims it infringes its own rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the ethnically split island nation’s natural resources.

The Cypriot government — which Turkey doesn’t recognize — says drilling is it’s sovereign right and that any potential wealth will be divided fairly after a peace deal is reached.

Fannon was in Cyprus as part of a three-nation visit that includes Israel and Egypt where significant offshore gas deposits that neighbor Cyprus’ own waters have been discovered. In 2011, Texas-based Noble Energy discovered a field off Cyprus that’s estimated to contain 4.5 trillion cubic feet of gas. Earlier this year, Italian energy company Eni also said it has found a gas field southwest of Cyprus, but hasn’t given an estimate of its size.

Meanwhile, the Cypriot energy ministry said that the drillship Stena-Icemax will drill to a depth of nearly two kilometers (1.2 miles) below the seabed at the Delphyne-1 site off Cyprus where ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum are licensed to drill.

France’s Total is also licensed to carry out exploratory drilling off Cyprus.