Turkish Cypriots warned on Thursday that if the Republic does not submit to talks over hydrocarbons exploration they will go ahead with their own drilling.
“We are open to dialogue on this. We are keeping the diplomacy channels open,” the ‘foreign minister’ of the Turkish Cypriot breakaway state Kudret Ozersay said in an interview with Anadolu news agency.
Ozersay added that his breakaway state would engage in drilling and related activities in the future through a company it would authorise.
The Turkish Cypriots recently renewed an agreement with Turkey’s state energy company TPAO for another six years for offshore hydrocarbon exploration activities.
Last month, Turkish warships prevented Italian energy company ENI from drilling in a field inside block 6 of the Republic’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Turkey argues it is safeguarding the rights of Turkish Cypriots, but it also has its own claims inside Cyprus’ EEZ.
The government has made it clear that it recognises Turkish Cypriot rights, which they can exercise as part of the island’s reunification.
“But it is time to decide: having talks for the sake of having talks is a not a good thing. Talks are a means to an end. For almost 50 years, we have had a negative experience that locked the Turkish Cypriot community in a process of negotiations,” Ozersay said.
He also noted that Turkish Cypriots have repeatedly announced that they would not allow Greek Cypriots to take unilateral steps on hydrocarbon activities.
“However, they are trying to create the problem that recently occurred in regard to the Italian company ENI now over other companies,” Ozersay said.
“I believe we will soon enter a period when everyone will see that nothing can be done in the region without first having the consent of the Turkish Cypriot people.”
The Greek Cypriot side says Turkish and Turkish Cypriot claims over hydrocarbon exploration are overridden by the convergences already reached on the issue during negotiations.
The two sides had agreed the exploitation of natural resources would be the responsibility of a federal state in reunited Cyprus.
The Greek Cypriot side has also accused Turkish Cypriot politicians of looking out for Turkey’s interests instead of their community’s.
Late last year Turkey acquired a drillship, the Deepsea Metro 2. Turkey’s energy minister Berat Albayrak said at the time that his country would be conducting its first offshore drilling in 2018, mentioning the Mediterranean as well as the Black Sea.
On Thursday, the Deepsea Metro 2 was moored in the Sea of Marmara undergoing repairs, according to the ship tracking website marinetraffic.com.
Turkey does not recognize the Republic, nor therefore the latter’s jurisdiction over its EEZ.
Turkey’s claims on the island’s EEZ partly overlap with Cyprus’ blocks 1, 4, 6 and 7. Ankara also supports the breakaway regime’s claims on blocks 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 12 and 13, including within few kilometres from the Aphrodite gas field.
Meantime Turkish daily Sabah secured a statement from the US Navy denying that it has deployed a fleet to the eastern Mediterranean in order to guard Exxon Mobil’s oil and gas exploration offshore Cyprus.
Responding to an inquiry, the US Navy told the newspaper that there was “no truth to the allegation that the US 6th Fleet is in the Eastern Mediterranean to protect ExxonMobil.”
The US Navy official added that the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Units were currently on a scheduled deployment to the US 6th Fleet area of operations.
The Iwo Jima ARG is currently conducting joint drills with the Israeli Defence Forces.
ExxonMobil’s actual gas drilling in block 10 of Cyprus’ EEZ is not due for months. The two vessels contracted by the oil major are survey ships which will soon be taking additional readings of the seabed to identify the best possible drilling targets.
Earlier in the week, Turkish and Russian media outlets ran with speculation that the United States was beefing up its presence in the area to provide protection to ExxonMobil.
The reports were picked up and played up by Greek and Cypriot media.