ATHENS, June 29 (Reuters) - Cyprus will push ahead with its oil and gas development plans despite potential setbacks, including the decades-long Cyprus conflict, its energy minister said on Thursday.
Cyprus is keen to develop its energy sector to bolster an economy that relies largely on tourism and business services. But its efforts could be complicated by the island's division between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots.
Turkey, which supports a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in northern Cyprus, says the island's Greek Cypriot-led government has no right to explore for hydrocarbons.
On Wednesday, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders began fresh reunification talks in what United Nations mediators say represents the best chance at peace in decades.
"There is absolutely no doubt that being able to resolve such a longstanding issue, as well as others which are pending in our region, will go a long way to mitigate ... the political risk," Cypriot Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis told a conference in Athens.
But he added Cyprus would "have to work around" the challenges.
"If, in the Eastern Med, with all the challenges that exist between the countries, we were waiting for all of them to be resolved before we take action ... we wouldn't have done anything so far," Lakkotrypis said.
"We need to continue to work together in this region in order to derisk all the projects that are on the table."
Cyprus has approved contracts with France's Total, Italy's Eni, Exxon Mobil and Qatar Petroleum to explore for oil and gas in offshore areas south of the island. It made its first natural gas discovery in 2011. (Reporting by Karolina Tagaris and Angeliki Koutantou, editing by David Evans)