By Elias Hazou
YESTERDAY’S meeting between President Nicos Anastasiades and the leaders of political parties seemed merely to affirm the status quo in the ongoing hydrocarbons standoff with Turkey.
According to a written statement issued by the Office of the President, during the meeting Anastasiades briefed the party leaders on the latest developments concerning Turkish moves in the Eastern Mediterranean, specifically the despatching of a Turkish research vessel to conduct seismic surveys in the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone – illegally according to Nicosia.
“As long as Turkey is in violation of the Republic’s sovereignty, it is impossible for me to participate in the designated dialogue on solving the Cyprus problem,” Anastasiades said.
The President reiterated that the management of the country’s natural resources rests with the internationally recognised government in Cyprus, acting on behalf of all the island’s legal citizens.
“Consequently, actions that question the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus, on the pretext of protecting the rights of the Turkish Cypriots, are not only incommensurate with international law, but are also groundless.”
In order for Turkish Cypriots to be involved in the management and exploitation of the island’s natural resources, added Anastasiades, the Cyprus problem needed to be solved first.
“It is likewise understood that all outstanding issues that have not been agreed could be discussed during the final stage of negotiations, once the maps on the territorial adjustments have been submitted and provided that the dialogue has entered the final track toward a solution,” the statement read.
Anastasiades said natural gas should be the “strongest incentive” for substantive reunification talks. The Greek Cypriot side would not resume talks under threats or blackmail, he noted, evidently referring to Turkey’s forays into the EEZ.
None of the party leaders spoke to the media after the meeting.
In October Anastasiades walked out of already-faltering peace talks, after Turkey issued a NAVTEX or marine advisory, by which it reserved a large swathe of Cyprus’ EEZ for seismic research.
Although the Turkish operations are taking place within international waters, any activity by foreign nations beneath the water surface (such as surveys, depth soundings and data gathering) inside Cyprus’ EEZ is prohibited.
The advisory expired on December 30 and was not extended, and the Turkish research vessel Barbaros has been anchored off the occupied port of Famagusta ever since – apparently awaiting instructions.
Anastasiades has said he would not engage in talks with Turkish Cypriots as long as the Barbaros roamed in Cypriot waters. However, although the Barbaros is currently idle, Turkey could presumably issue a new NAVTEX at any time.
For their part, Turkish officials indicated that they would cease explorations in the EEZ only if Greek Cypriots halted their own gas prospecting – an idea Nicosia has rejected outright.
Cyprus has meantime pressed on with fresh prospecting in offshore Block 9. A drill ship operating on behalf of the Italian-Korean consortium ENI-KOGAS has already moved to a second location in the bloc, and is prepping to drill a new well.
Turkey has yet to counter this move. Military sources told the Mail that a Turkish frigate has been monitoring the drill ship at a distance of between 5 to 15 nautical miles.
“There has not been any harassment or violation of seafaring rules on Turkey’s part,” the sources said.
An unnamed senior Turkish Cypriot official told daily Politis that their side was not so much bothered by ENI-KOGAS’s new operations, as they understood that the consortium is contractually obligated to do so.
“What we are interested in is restarting the dialogue on the Cyprus issue, and of course the issue of natural gas must be put on the table as part of a federal solution,” the source said.
By contrast, Turkish leader Dervis Eroglu has reportedly conveyed to Ankara that it should issue a new NAVTEX for exploration in Cyprus’ EEZ. It’s understood Eroglu is taking a hardline stance, as this would maximise his chances of re-election in upcoming elections in the north.
Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus nor its jurisdiction over the EEZ, and says that Turkish Cypriots must share in the island’s wealth.
Anastasiades has been criticised for inadvertently putting hydrocarbons on the agenda of the Cyprus problem by drawing attention to natural gas when he pulled out of the talks. By contrast, commentators say, the previous administration of Demetris Christofias did not take the bait when Turkey was likewise violating the EEZ back in 2011.
After yesterday’s meeting, the three smallest opposition parties, the Greens, Citizens Alliance and EDEK, which are against any return to the talks, slammed the president for “downgrading the sovereignty of the Republic” by what they said was his placement of hydrocarbons onto the final stages of the Cyprus negotiations.