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Turkish Cypriots say gas find could be obstacle

Turkish Cypriot 'foreign minister' Kudret Ozersay

The Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator on Wednesday played down the prospect of a quick solution in the Cyprus peace talks with his Greek rivals, warning that the discovery of natural gas in the region was possibly more of an obstacle than of help.

Kudret Ozersay was in Paris to discuss the negotiation process, with Pierre Levy, Director of the European Union Division at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Greek Cypriot negotiator Andreas Mavroyianis was also due to meet Levy.

“These meetings gave Mr. Levy the occasion to take stock of the negotiation process and its perspectives with its interlocutors. France’s support to the settlement of the Cyprus problem was reaffirmed,” said a statement from the ministry.

Cyprus peace talks were re-launched in February but have not made much headway. US Vice President Joe Biden said in a landmark visit to Cyprus on May 22 that the leaders had agreed to speed up the slow-moving talks by meeting twice a month. They had only met one other time since the February 11 start to the talks, although they had fixed another meeting for June 2 days prior to Biden’s visit.

But speaking to reporters in Paris, Ozersay said the next phase of talks was uncertain, the first time either side has warned of possible trouble ahead.

“We are against the idea of talks just for talks. We don’t want to be the prisoners of that. We don’t know what will be the next stage, there isn’t a roadmap that we have agreed on,” Ozersay said.

The recent discovery of natural gas under the sea between Cyprus and Israel has added a new dimension to the island’s strife and also heightened tensions between the two sides.

The significance of the find has been amplified by the Ukraine crisis and its possible impact on Russian gas supplies to Europe.

“The fact that one community – one of the co-owners – is treated as if they were eligible to do whatever they want about hydrocarbons without getting the consent of the other, it cannot help the Cyprus problem, on the contrary it could be a kind of obstacle,” Ozersay said.

Power sharing, redrawing property boundaries and the claims of thousands of displaced persons are key issues in the conflict. Any agreement must be put to separate referendums.

“Our counterpart is unwilling to accept fully the convergences that were agreed, (and) they want to change some of these convergences that were (agreed) before,” Ozersay said, declining to give specific details.

“This is something disturbing for us and we’re not happy to see this.”

He repeated previous claims that the Greek Cypriot side was trying to review convergences brokered in previous peace talks between 2008 and 2012 on issues such as competencies of a future Cyprus federal government and on the functioning of the economy.

Ozersay said there had been broad progress on issues ranging from federal legislature to a federal judiciary and a federal police.

“So far we achieved certain progress on certain issues. Is it sufficient? No.”

He also said both sides had failed to agree on the fate of Varosha, the fenced-off ghost town in Famagusta. “We failed (on Varosha). I don’t want to go to more details why, but we failed,” he said.

President Nicos Anastasiades wants the return of Varosha to be a confidence-building measure with discussions on that to run parallel with the negotiations for a comprehensive settlement. However the Turkish Cypriot side has made its opposition to this clear, saying Varosha would be part of an overall deal.

During Biden’s visit, the US Vice President tried to help the two sides clinch a deal that would allow experts to enter Varosha and study its condition.

In the build-up to his visit, reports were rife that Biden would announce a first “small” confidence-building measure on Varosha, where the US would fund a team of international experts to develop a master plan on the rejuvenation of the fenced area.

When Biden met Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu last Thursday night, the dinner lasted three hours- an hour over schedule- prompting rumours agreement had been reached on opening Varosha to the experts.

However, no breakthrough was announced, leaving Biden to say the US encourages the leaders to discuss a package on Varosha and Famagusta. According to Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides the next day, it was not possible to agree due to certain demands of the Turkish Cypriots which were not only unacceptable but also made in bad faith, he said, adding that they wanted the inclusion of a special reference that the international experts could be foreign or Turkish Cypriot, but explicitly not Greek Cypriot.

(Reporting by Reuters and Cyprus Mail staff)


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