By Stefanos Evripidou
UN SPECIAL Adviser Espen Barth Eide yesterday expressed sympathy over the trials and tribulations of coastal states claiming their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) but issued a stark warning not to expect the international community to do anything about it.
In an interview with public broadcaster CyBC, Eide discussed the situation which arose after Turkey issued a navigational telex (NAVTEX) last Friday, reserving a sizeable area of Cyprus’ EEZ south of the island for seismic studies from October 20 to December 30.
This prompted President Nicos Anastasiades to announce on Tuesday the temporary suspension of direct peace talks. The special adviser described the latest development as “a very serious situation”.
He said: “I fully understand why President Anastasiades is reacting to this. I come from Norway, it’s a coastal state, we were very instrumental when the Law of the Sea Convention was set up, so of course, I do have strong sympathy for all the coastal states when they make their claims, and also exercise their rights.
Eide was clear on what one can expect from the international community in such instances, given his own experience as foreign minister when dealing with long-running negotiations with Russia regarding their respective EEZs.
“Even back in the Cold War, our experience was that there was limited support from the outside world when we had maritime disputes or disagreements or issues with other states. The tradition, in general, is that other countries are careful to take positions when countries are in disagreement over those issues,” he said.
“So, in that sense, I think maybe there’s been an assumption that there’ll be an outcry of support from the international community which is simply not what the international community normally does.”
Eide added that many key countries had recognised Cyprus’ right to declare, exploit and explore its EEZ as being embedded in international law.
But they are also encouraging people on all sides to show restraint and try to work quickly to defuse the situation and move towards a settlement, “because a settlement would clearly solve the issue”, he said.
Asked about Anasastiades’ decision to suspend direct talks, Eide described it as “a strong reaction” within context of Greek Cypriot politics and reality.
“And of course, I understand that President Anastasiades needs political backing for what he’s about to do, which is to enter into the most serious phase of the negotiations which he’s still committed to do, but it has to be in political circumstances which makes that possible. So I respect that decision.”
Eide said if the delay in direct meetings lasts a few weeks, the two sides will be able to catch up and rebuild the dynamic started around a month ago: “However, if it lasts for months, I’m much more concerned that it will be more difficult to come back to where we were.”
In an interview with Turkish Cypriot daily Havadis yesterday, government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the Greek Cypriot side was left with no choice but to suspend its participation in the talks.
“The week that the new process of substantive talks would start, Turkey considered it appropriate to show, unfortunately, a totally contradictory stance, the path of provocations instead of constructive and positive engagement.”
Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu accused Anastasiades of sabotaging the process, adding that Turkish Cypriots also had rights to Cyprus’ natural wealth.
Democratic Party leader Serdar Denktash went so far as to argue the rights of Turkish Cypriots were currently “under occupation” by the Greek Cypriots.
According to a Russian foreign ministry announcement, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov and Anastasiades’ special envoy to Russia Sotos Zackheos yesterday discussed the situation “regarding the EEZ around the island”.
The statement concluded: “Unilateral actions, the show of force are unacceptable, and entail risks of deterioration of the situation, not only in Cypriot affairs, but also in the wider region of the eastern Mediterranean.”
Greece’s foreign ministry yesterday accused Turkey of “provoking tension”, describing its refusal to recognise Cyprus’ legal and sovereign rights as a “sad paradox”.
This was not the first NAVTEX issued by Turkey inside Cyprus’ EEZ but it is the first one encroaching inside Cypriot blocks, including three that have already been licenced to Italian-Korean consortium ENI-KOGAS.
Cyprus carved up the southern part of its EEZ into 13 blocks, awarding concessions to American and Israeli consortium Noble-Delek (block 12), France’s Total (blocks 10 and 11), and ENI-KOGAS (blocks 2, 3 and 9).
The latter began exploratory drilling in its Onasagoras field in block 9 late last month, expected to last three months, after which three more drillings are scheduled to take place.
Until now, Turkey would send its Barbaros research vessel to areas west and east of the island, weaving in and out of Cyprus’ EEZ, but never inside one of the delineated blocks.
Turkey’s latest NAVTEX, however, reserves a large contiguous area, spreading across blocks 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9, for seismic research.
In another first, the Turkish foreign ministry explicitly stated its intent to conduct drilling operations for hydrocarbons south of the island.
A quick look at a map shows that Turkey has brazenly reserved a massive area for seismic research right between ENI’s drilling site and the southern Cypriot coastline.
Even if one were inclined to afford legitimacy to the breakaway regime in the north, which Turkey does, there is no feasible way to argue the area reserved by Turkey is part of a hypothetical EEZ of the occupied areas.
Given that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots consistently argue there is an independent entity north of the island, Ankara’s latest move under the belly of the island suggests motives not relating to the rights of Turkish Cypriots, but to Turkey’s own desire to have a clear, dominant say in the exploration and exploitation of Cypriot hydrocarbons, particularly where the gas ends up and how it gets there.