By Jean Christou
UN SPECIAL Adviser Espen Barth Eide will be in Cyprus from April 6-8, the Secretary-General’s Good Offices mission said on Monday only hours after the Turkish Cypriot side announced the withdrawal of its seismic vessel Barbaros “within the day”.
Eide’s visit also comes on the day Turkey’s second navigational telex (NAVETX) expires. This, combined with the departure of the ENI-KOGAS drilling vessel Sapiem1000 from the island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), has paved the way for the stalled negotiations to resume.
According to an announcement from the UN, Eide was visiting to “to follow up on the encouraging indications received during his last trip to the island regarding a possible resumption of the negotiations”.
Eide will meet separately with President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu to continue discussions on restarting the talks. He will also meet the chief negotiators for both sides “in support of their substantive preparations”.
“The Special Adviser continues to be optimistic about the prospects for a return to structured, results-oriented negotiations, and looks forward to this visit as an important step towards renewing the momentum in the talks,” the UN statement said.
No indication was given for when the talks might resume but Eide has previously said he hoped to announce a date either for the end of April or the beginning of May when conditions were optimal. Elections are being held in the north on April 19.
On Monday, the Barbaros was due to leave Famagusta port, a day after the Sapiem left the island’s EEZ.
According to a marine traffic site, the Barbaros was still at Famagusta late afternoon, but Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign minister’ Ozdil Nami said it would be gone within the day.
He said the Turkish Cypriot side was reciprocating for the departure of the Sapiem by sending the Barbaros back to Turkey.
Speaking on Turkish Cypriot radio, BRT, Nami said Turkey did not want to give the Greek Cypriot side “any excuse” not to return to the negotiating table.
The Barbaros has been anchored off Famagusta since December 30 when the first navigational telex (NAVETX), issued in October, expired, and the vessel had carried out seismic explorations in the island’s exclusive economic zone during a two-month period. In response, the Greek Cypriot side withdrew from the talks.
A second NAVETX was issued from January 6 until April 6 but the Barbaros has not left Famagusta port during the past three months.
The expiry of the second NAVTEX, plus the fact that ENI-KOGAS has stopped drilling and sent the Sapiem to Italy for maintenance, which is expected to take four or five months, has opened a window of opportunity for the resumption of the stalled negotiations.
The Greek Cypriot side had said as long as any NAVTEX was in force, and as long as the Barbaros remained off Cyprus, there would be no talks, while the Turkish side refused to go back to the table as long as drilling continued in the EEZ.
Mediators deny any backdoor deal even though the demands of both sides have now been met.
Nami said departure of the Barbaros would put an end to any excuses put forward by the Greek Cypriot side to stay away from the talks.
He also told the Associated Press that Turkey’s NAVTEX would not be renewed “if the Greek Cypriot side does not [resume drilling] either.”
By Jean Christou