President Nicos Anastasiades called on Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots to return to the negotiating table provided they end the violation of the republic’s sovereign rights inside its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
In a written statement issued on Wednesday, amid a standoff over natural gas exploration offshore Cyprus, Anastasiades said the Turkish arguments were neither justified nor based on real facts.
“Within this framework, the Republic of Cyprus’ energy planning will continue,” he said.
On Tuesday, Turkey extended a blockade that prevents offshore drilling for natural gas by Italian energy firm ENI inside the EEZ.
It started some two weeks ago when Turkish warships, claiming to be participating in military drills in waters off the east of the island, interrupted the Saipem 12000 drillship while en route to Cuttlefish, a site in block 3 where it was scheduled to drill an exploratory gas well.
Turkey had issued a Navtex notice of its plans to be in the area of Block 3, which was due to expire on Thursday but on Tuesday, Turkey issued a new Navtex until March 10.
Anastasiades called on the Turkish side to end the blockade and resume talks to reunify the island.
“I wish once more to publicly invite Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side to immediately respond to my call to return to the negotiating table, provided they end the violation of the Republic of Cyprus’ sovereign rights in the EEZ,” he said.
Turkish Cypriots argue that they also have rights on the island’s natural resources.
The breakaway regime declared an ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ of its own, which in effect claims that half of Cyprus’ EEZ belongs to them, including blocks 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 12 and 13.
Turkey, which says it is protecting the rights of Turkish Cypriots, also has claims on parts of various blocks in Cyprus’ EEZ saying the areas in question form part of its continental shelf. The claim includes part of blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7, to the south and southwest of the island.
Reports said Turkey is expected to start oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean in March.
Turkey’s Deepsea Metro II drillship is currently undergoing technical preparations and will head to the region after it is given a Turkish name.
Anastasiades said Turkish Cypriot claims were unjustified, given that an agreement reached by former president Demetris Christofias and former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat on the matter still stood.
The agreement provided that any decisions concerning sea zones, continental shelf, EEZ, will be handled by the federal government post-reunification.
“This convergence was confirmed during the latest round of negotiations and was never disputed by the Turkish side,” he said on Wednesday.
Beyond that, he added, the government has submitted a bill to parliament that provides for the creation of a fund, similar to the Norwegian sovereign fund, to administer proceeds from hydrocarbons thus “securing the interests of existing and future generations of all Cypriots.”
“Consequently, the statements and rhetoric that is used by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots is neither justified nor based on real facts; nor does it serve the best interests of the Cypriot people,” he said.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said Greek Cypriots should stop being stubborn and agree to discuss hydrocarbon issues in a joint committee.
“If they had done this, we wouldn’t have gone through what we are going through today,” he said, adding that the proposal for a sovereign fund was not serious.
“I certainly hope this will be an example for future talks and both the foreign companies and the Greek Cypriot side will join us on the road to co-operation,” Akinci said.
Addressing Anastasiades, Akinci said Cyprus and the area around it had wealth, which could be used for the future of the two communities if they co-operate.
“But at the same time, we all saw and witnessed the fact that it also brings crises.”
Akinci said Greek Cypriots did not want to share power, their unilateral actions in the EEZ was tangible proof of that.
He said the Turkish Cypriot side wants to have a constructive approach towards the resumption of talks but it needed first to see certain things before: “If the Greek Cypriot side is really ready to share power and the wealth of Cyprus with the Turkish Cypriot side.”
Reports also said that Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign minister’ Kudret Ozersay travelled to Italy secretly where he met ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi.
According to Dogan news agency, ENI told him the company did not want to get involved in the crisis between the two sides and that it wanted a diplomatic solution found.
ENI, according to a government source, denied the reports. The company, the source said, gave reassurances that neither ENI’s CEO Claudio Descalzi or any other official met with Ozersay.
Earlier, Anastasiades briefed the council of party chiefs on the developments.
According to government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides, the leaders expressed their views on the situation and the actions they thought the government should engage in.
The council unanimously condemned the Turkish actions in the EEZ and supports the government’s efforts to secure the island’s sovereign rights, the spokesman said.
Speaking after the meeting, Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis said diplomatic efforts were continuing.
“Nothing has finished, diplomatic efforts continue,” the minister told reporters. “We are in constant communication with the company. Be patient.”
The matter was discussed during a meeting between the president and US Ambassador Kathleen Doherty later in the day.
Doherty said she relayed to Anastasiades that her country felt very strongly Cyprus has the right to explore and exploit its resources in the EEZ and “we reiterated that we are engaged in the issues relevant to the Eastern Mediterranean. Secretary Tillerson when he was in Ankara last week raised this issue with the Turks.”
The ambassador said the US was monitoring the events and were also engaging “and hopefully the issue will be resolved so that we can move forward and start the talks again.”
Replying to a question about the expected arrival of ExxonMobil in Cyprus’ EEZ, Doherty said “we are talking about immediate issues today and we will see what happens.”
Italy meanwhile, warned that the standoff could affect the entire area.
Citing Italian foreign ministry sources, Ansamed news service reported that Italy was willing to look for every possible diplomatic solution, in respect of international law, to an issue that did not concern bilateral relations between Italy and Turkey, but relations and balances that are also economic between the Republic of Cyprus and the island’s northern part.
“A potential negative outcome of ongoing efforts to define agreed procedures on search activities would risk compromising the potential for growth and benefits of the whole area,” the source was quoted as saying.
Anastasiades is expected to brief EU leaders about the standoff during the informal summit on Friday in Brussels.