By Elias Hazou
Opposition parties, bar AKEL, were up in arms on Wednesday in the wake of Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci’s comments about the link between natural gas and a possible settlement of the Cyprus problem.
The hawks – DIKO, the Citizens Alliance and the Greens – also zeroed in on Akinci’s statement, a day earlier, that President Nicos Anastasiades had recently met with a group of Turkish companies.
The government meantime dismissed as phony the local displays of outrage.
Speaking to civil society organisations on Tuesday evening, Akinci said that if gas resources in the Eastern Med are used “wisely” that would be beneficial to all parties involved. He went on to cite experts opinions that the most efficient method for Cyprus, Israel and Egypt to export their gas to Europe would be via a subsea pipeline running through Turkey.
But in order for that to happen, Akinci said, the Cyprus problem would first need to be solved, and Turkish-Israeli relations improved, although the two countries continue to have trade relations.
He went on to say that Anastasiades has met with representatives of Turkish companies. It’s understood he was referring to companies active in the energy industry.
On the other hand, Akinci warned, an ‘imprudent’ handling of natural gas would be a cause of tension in the region and might even lead to conflict.
Daily Phileleftheros, known for its hard-line views on the peace talks, chose to emphasise the latter comment, declaring that Akinci is ‘threatening’ war over natural gas. The paper said that, with these remarks, Akinci had revealed himself to be a disciple of Ankara’s aggressive policy toward Cyprus.
Politis took a different slant, noting that the Turkish Cypriot leader was being pragmatic and merely pointing out both the opportunities and pitfalls of the natural gas issue, depending on how it is handled.
Almost inevitably, opposition parties went for the negative spin.
DIKO leader Nicholas Papadopoulos called a news conference on Wednesday, saying Akinci was threatening the Republic of Cyprus.
“It was only a few months ago that Turkish warships were violating Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone. Now, Mr Akinci is threatening us with war over natural gas. And still, President Anastasiades, DISY and AKEL continue to advertise the so-called ‘good climate’ in the peace talks.”
Papadopoulos demanded that Anastasiades respond immediately as to whether he has been meeting with Turkish companies.
“If these allegations are true, it means that without authorisation from the people, Mr Anastasiades has been negotiating, in secret, the mortgaging of our natural resources to Turkish interests.”
Likewise the Greens wanted answers.
“Which are these [Turkish] companies, what was discussed, and why were the meetings kept from the public eye?” a party spokesperson said.
“The fact that we learning about this from Mr Akinci and from press reports is unacceptable, to say the least.”
The Citizens Alliance accused Anastasiades of pursuing a covert agenda.
“What commitments has he undertaken? What other secret meetings, and possible deals, has he made? At the end of the day, whose interests does Mr Anastasiades serve?”
Speaking from New York, government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the critics were beating a dead horse.
Asked for a comment by the Cyprus Mail, Christodoulides said the visits by Turkish corporations to Cyprus were well known.
He said that both energy minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis and Tasos Tzionis, head of the foreign ministry’s energy desk, met in Nicosia last year with Matthew Bryza, a former US diplomat and currently on the board of Turcas Energy Group AS, which is backing an Israel-Turkey gas pipeline.
In addition, in an interview with Alithia published in August 2014, Anastasiades revealed that he had met with representatives of Turkish energy companies.
It’s understood that Anastasiades saw people from three Turkish corporations.
“Now, why some parties in Cyprus are pretending to be in the dark, I don’t know,” Christodoulides said.
“We have repeatedly stated that gas is an incentive for Turkey to engage in a solution of the Cyprus problem, and that is why the President is keeping this channel open.”