IN HIS report about the renewal of Unficyp’s mandate, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres included his views about hydrocarbon exploration that did not go down well with the Greek Cypriots. This was because, according to several commentators and politicians, he did not recognise the sovereign right of the Cyprus Republic to exploit its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Regarding hydrocarbon explorations in the Cypriot EEZ, Guterres said, “it remains an issue that could lead to tensions between the various stakeholders,” and added that it was essential for “all parties to make every effort to defuse tensions”. The way to defuse tensions was “to ensure that any natural resources found around Cyprus will benefit both communities”, said the secretary-general.
The report came a week after the storm that was raised domestically by President Anastasides’ comments about the Turks “limiting themselves to whatever they are entitled to in the EEZ of the illegal entity”. He made this slip while responding to the latest Turkish threats about explorations currently under way. Many of his critics saw it as a case of ceding the Republic’s EEZ north of the island to Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.
It was an exaggerated response, even though it showed that the threats were getting to Anastasiades and he was looking for some way to show how unreasonable Turkey was being. While he had a point, his argument did not have any effect on the UNSG’s report which pointed out that both communities should benefit from natural resources found so that tensions could be avoided. Guterres took Turkey’s threats seriously and felt duty-bound to issue a warning about the possibility of tension to the Cyprus government.
Our politicians chose to ignore the warnings, preferring to utter the usual rhetoric about the Republic’s sovereign rights which are correct in theory, but mean very little in practice especially when a much more powerful country is disputing these rights. The defiant rhetoric may be understandable during election time, but very serious thought needs to be given to the matter.
The new government will need to analyse whether it is able to manage the situation in the event that Turkey decides to push things to the limit, which nobody can rule out. It should also bear in mind that if there is a build-up of tension it might have little control over events.
This is all speculation for now, but the government needs to heed the warning of the UNSG and exercise caution, because nobody will come to Cyprus’ rescue if it all veers out of control.