By Stefanos Evripidou
TURKEY and the Turkish Cypriots have defended a decision to register an agreement between them at the UN, delineating the continental shelf between Turkey and the occupied north of the island, while the government questions the timing of the move.
Turkey argues the Turkish Cypriots, as “co-owners” of the island, have “equal” rights to its natural resources.
On April 10, Turkey sent a note verbale to the UN Secretary-General concerning the submission of the geographical coordinates of what Turkey considers to be its own continental shelf and that of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot regime, recognised only by Ankara.
The delineation agreement was signed in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on September 21, 2011, two days after exploratory drilling had begun in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone. It was ratified by Turkey’s national assembly on June 29, 2012.
The Cyprus government responded earlier this week to the note verbale, condemning the action as “unacceptable”.
It described the move as a “negative” development considering peace negotiations were underway.
According to sources close to the government, the presidential palace was “very surprised” and “concerned” by Turkey’s decision to send the continental shelf agreement to the UN last month.
While the agreement is considered to have no legal weight, the timing has raised questions in Nicosia of ‘why now’, two years after the agreement was signed.
Dr James Ker-Lindsay, South East Europe expert at the London School Economics said “in reality, the move by Ankara is just for show” as the UN Security Council, in Resolution 541, explicitly called on states not to recognise the breakaway regime in the north.
Regarding the timing, Ker-Lindsay argues, “it seems designed to reinforce the message that if the Greek Cypriots continue to press ahead with their energy plans without reaching a solution with the Turkish Cypriots, Turkey will carry out its threats to mirror such activities in the north”.
Also, Ankara wants to make clear, just because peace talks are underway, it does not mean that its support for the breakaway state is on hold.
“The overall message is: do a deal or deal with the consequences,” said Ker-Lindsay.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the delimitation agreement takes into account “the legitimate, equal and inherent rights of the Turkish Cypriots like those of the Greek Cypriots over the whole continental shelf of the island.”
The ministry said it remained resolute in its stance towards the transformation of the eastern Mediterranean into an area of peace, stability and cooperation through a speedy peace settlement.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign ministry’ also issued a statement saying the natural resources of Cyprus belong to the two “peoples” as “equal owners” of the island.
The Turkish Cypriots argued that they showed good faith by submitting proposals to the UN Secretary-General on ways to share the island’s natural resources, but these were ignored.
President Nicos Anastasiades has invested a lot on the latest round of peace talks, as have the United States whose ambassador in Cyprus was actively involved in negotiations to reach a joint declaration last February. Both the government and the U.S. are working on the shared belief that Turkey “means business” when it says it’s ready for a solution.
One concern is that the Turkish Cypriots are making moves to prepare the way for the hydrocarbons issue to be submitted for discussion at the negotiating table, despite the fact previous negotiations have already decided this would come under the competences of a future federal state.
Until a solution is reached, Anastasiades has frequently stressed Cyprus’ sovereign right to its natural resources, which belong to all its citizens.
The president has suggested that after a solution, in parallel with the targeted construction of a liquefaction plant near Limassol, Turkey could be supplied with Cypriot and Israeli natural gas either via a pipeline cutting through Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone or over the island.
A number of Turkish companies have already visited Cyprus and held contacts with the foreign ministry and energy ministry to explore these options.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution on Thursday, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright highlighted Turkey’s unique geopolitical position, which could be used to create an alternative to dominant Russian energy sources.
She noted the advantages of transporting Cyprus and Israel’s energy sources via Turkey, adding that relations appeared to be improving between Turkey and the two Mediterranean countries.