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Turkey opposition to Cyprus gas exploration harms peace talks (update 3)

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides dismissed reports that Russia was seeking a naval/air base in Cyprus

By Elias Hazou

THE GOVERNMENT said on Monday it was mulling a range of diplomatic and legal responses to Turkey’s announcement that it is reserving areas for seismic surveys south of the island and within Cyprus’ offshore blocks.

“We consider this development particularly serious,” Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told a news conference in Nicosia.

Kasoulides said diplomatic and legal responses were being considered, but declined to give details.

The ministries of foreign affairs and energy are jointly preparing a document outlining possible counteractions, to be put to President Nicos Anastasiades, who would evaluate the options and make a decision, Kasoulides said.

Turkey’s reservation of areas off the island’s southern shores are illegal, the chief diplomat reiterated, adding that ongoing peace talks could suffer should Ankara persist with this course of action.

Likewise government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides did not rule out the cancellation of a meeting – scheduled for this Thursday – between the leaders of the two communities.

The president has called a meeting of party leaders at the presidential palace on Tuesday to brief them on the situation and discuss whether the talks with Turkish Cypriots should be interrupted.

An announcement on any decisions would be made after the meeting, sources told the Cyprus Mail. It’s understood that the president cleared his entire schedule for Monday to deal with the issue.

Anastasiades has been in touch with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos with a view to coordinating the two countries’ response.

Earlier, Konstantinos Koutras, spokesman for the Greek foreign ministry, warned Turkey that Cyprus could not tolerate any further violations of international law,” adding that “Turkey’s behaviour will decide its European future and also the negotiation process on the Cyprus matter.”

Nicosia meanwhile is issuing demarches to international organisations, including the United Nations and the European Union, denouncing Turkey’s latest provocation.

The US State Department on Monday said it recognised Cyprus’ right to develop its resources inside its EEZ, stressing the importance of avoiding activities that could raise tensions in the area.

“We continue to believe that the island’s oil and natural gas reserves as well as all its resources should be fairly shared between the two communities in a comprehensive arrangement,” spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

On the home front, the political opposition stressed the gravity of the Turkish moves, and censured the government for its feeble response.

“So far we’ve had no reaction or comments from the international community,” AKEL’s Giorgos Loukaides said, urging the administration to take concrete steps but avoid “knee-jerk reactions”.

DIKO leader Nicholas Papadopoulos said Turkey’s show of force is rising “dangerously and constitutes an arrogant questioning of the Cyprus Republic’s inalienable sovereign rights”.

“This is an issue that goes beyond the bounds of the Cyprus problem and poses major problems to our country as well as the wider region,” he added.

Last Friday Turkey issued a NAVTEX (Navigational Telex), a notice to mariners advising that it was reserving areas south of Cyprus for seismic surveys from October 20 to December 30.

The surveys will be carried out by the Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, a seismographic research vessel. However the coordinates reserved under the NAVTEX trespass into offshore blocks 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9 of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Inside block 9, the area reserved by the Turkish advisory directly borders – but does not overlap – the area where the Italian-Korean consortium ENI-KOGAS is currently conducting exploratory drilling for natural gas, on licence from the Republic of Cyprus.

It is the first time Turkey has reserved areas south of Cyprus – prior advisories had reserved areas southwest of the island, also inside the EEZ. Moreover some of the locations, the Cyprus Mail is told, encroach into Cyprus’ territorial waters, as the reserved area stretches from off the coast of Famagusta, off the coast of Larnaca and reaching waters south of Limassol.

Though the Turkish NAVTEX does not overlap the area where ENI is currently operating, it could hamper future ENI operations at other locations within block 9, sources said.

“Essentially Turkey has bisected the region between Cyprus’ southern coast and Egypt, as if Cyprus does not exist,” said the same sources.

Turkey does not recognise the republic nor Nicosia’s jurisdiction in the exploration area. Cyprus has concluded bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries – Israel, Egypt and Lebanon – delimiting their respective EEZs. The coordinates of the EEZs have been submitted to the United Nations. Cyprus and Turkey concluded no such EEZ agreements.

EEZ agreements fall under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which Turkey is not a signatory.

Of additional concern to Cyprus is Turkey’s stated intent – again for the first time explicitly – to conduct drilling operations for hydrocarbons south of the island.

On Saturday, on the back of the Turkish NAVTEX, the Turkish foreign ministry issued a press release denouncing the “Greek Cypriot Administration’s (GCA) continuing unilateral research activities of hydrocarbon resources in its so called Exclusive Economic Zone without taking into account the Turkish Cypriots’ detailed and concrete cooperation proposals for a fair sharing.”

The statement added: “Turkey calls on the international community to act in order to prevent the provocative and unilateral steps of the GCA. Until it is done, all kind of support to the TRNC’s future steps of conducting seismic research activities, acquiring a drilling platform and dispatching it to an area to be determined, which are necessary to protect its inherent rights over these resources, will be provided by us.”

Prior to that statement, the Turkish armed forces announced that the warship TCG Gelibolu would continue to monitor the activities of ENI’s drillship in block 9.

The TCG Gelibolu is participating in an ongoing Turkish Navy operation, dubbed ‘Mediterranean Shield’. Under ‘Mediterranean Shield’, Turkish ships are “conducting maritime security operations to provide for the safe and secure movement of vessels at sea and to deter terrorism”.

Meanwhile, and in a possibly related development, Cyprus and the United States will on Tuesday be conducting a joint Search and Rescue (SAR) daylight drill near the island’s coast.

A defence ministry statement said that US naval units and helicopters of the Republic of Cyprus will take part in the aeronautical SAR exercise under the operational control and full coordination of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) Larnaca, in close cooperation with the CPR-6 of the United States Navy.


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