PRESIDENT Anastasiades may have over-reacted in quitting the talks over the issuing of the Turkish NAVTEX and in the process trapped himself, but in so doing he may have inadvertently exposed Turkey’s real agenda. This was hinted at by Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu the other day when he said “the eastern Mediterranean is also our sea and no-one can close it to us.”
By way of threat, he said, “if necessary we can start drilling as well,” adding: “There will be no hesitation in using these rights.” It could be argued that he resorted to these threats in order to show Anastasiades that he had no choice but to return to the negotiating table. “Our call is clear: intense negotiations that will lead to a settlement and immediate peace,” said Davutoglu. His foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, to appear constructive, suggested the establishment of some consortium to handle Cyprus’ hydrocarbons until there was a settlement.
But if there was a settlement, would Turkey be content to sit back and allow the new federal state to exploit its hydrocarbons in any way it chose or would Ankara want to have a direct say over this? Would Turkey reach agreement with the new state, over its EEZ, or would she still be claiming the right to carry out explorations and drilling in waters that were much closer to Cyprus than her shores? Davutoglu’s statement that “the eastern Mediterranean is also our sea and no-one can close it to us,” would suggest the disputes over hydrocarbons might not end with a settlement.
Nobody has tried to ‘close’ the eastern Mediterranean to Turkey, unless of course Turkey has claims in the part of the sea that Cyprus considers part of its EEZ. Perhaps this is Ankara’s real interest and is merely using the rights of the Turkish Cypriots as a pretext to pursue its own designs. Anastasiades’ reaction to the arrival of the Barbaros in Cypriot EEZ has allowed Turkey to put the issue of the hydrocarbons on the agenda, arguing that it was protecting the interests of the Turkish Cypriots who had a legitimate claim on the revenue that would come from the island’s hydrocarbons.
Natural gas could become a second Cyprus problem, a separate issue on which the two sides are unable to reach agreement. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor Espen Barth Eide’ idea of having a twin track process so that hydrocarbons would be discussed parallel to the talks, would have been a step in this direction. Neither side accepted it, but we doubt we have heard the end of it as it may be the only way for talks to resume.