By Jean Christou
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday Ankara would not budge on its position as regards Cyprus’ hydrocarbons exploitation, but he wanted to make oil and gas “an instrument of peace”.
“We will support the TRNC, and will not give up our policy due to Greek Cypriots’ unjust and non-reconciliatory behaviour,” he said at an energy markets conference, referring to Ankara’s position that its actions on hydrocarbons exploration is to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriots.
“We [Turkey] want to play a constructive and leading role in turning energy into a resource of wealth and prosperity, instead of one that causes disputes and destruction,” Erdogan said. “We will do our best to make oil and gas the instruments of peace and prosperity,” he concluded.
Erdogan also questioned why Turkey’s energy chapter – part of its EU accession negotiations – had not yet been opened. “We have questioned what was missing. They had no answer,” he said.
“We asked where we were stuck. They could not answer these questions, just as they could not do regarding other chapters. Honesty is a must. We can start the process in two-three months when the EU says it is ready to open any chapter to negotiate with us,” Erdoğan added. He said Turkey’s energy consumption had increased rapidly and that the government planned to invest $120 billion in energy projects by 2023.
Earlier this month, Ankara issued a new NAVTEX (navigational telex) reserving areas in the eastern Mediterranean for exploration – parts of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone among them – from January 6 to April 6. It was the second NAVTEX issued since last October. The first prompted the Greek Cypriot side to withdraw from the Cyprus talks, which have not resumed as yet and have little prospect of doing so.
The Greek Cypriot side in an overture to the Turkish Cypriots offered to tag the hydrocarbons issue on to the end of the Cyprus negotiations but at the same time had begun a new round of drilling in Block 9 on January 2, which Turkey opposed.
The window – after the end of the first NAVTEX on December 30 and the start of new drilling – in which both sides had backed off was too short however to bring them back to the table. The Turkish side, although it has a new NAVTEX in hand, has not yet ordered its seismic vessel Barbaros to resume explorations. The ship remains anchored off Famagusta. It is believed they see this as a gesture of goodwill.
Meanwhile the Greek Cypriot side is scrambling to limit any damage from an unfavourable report by the UN Secretary General on the activities of the United Nations in Cyprus covering the period June 14, 2014 to December 15, 2014 and has made written and verbal representations. An angry President Nicos Anastasiades said afterwards he would not be dragged into talks under “threat or blackmail.”
According to the Cyprus News Agency the Permanent Representation of Cyprus at the UN is continuing contacts with members of the UN Security Council ahead of their briefing on January 26 by UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide.
It said Greek Cypriot negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis was also expected in New York and would hold contacts with the UN Secretariat and members of the UN Security Council.
The CNA said that during their contacts the Cypriot and Greek delegations would stress that it was necessary for the UN to clearly and objectively outline the reasons for the state of affairs as regards the Cyprus issue.
As Anastasiades headed for Davos in Switzerland on Tuesday to attend the World Economic Forum where he will have sideline meetings with other world leaders, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides met the same day in Brussels with EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn.
Speaking after the meeting, Hahn said they had discussed energy, migration, security and rising radicalisation.
“I really like to stress this because usually if somebody from Cyprus shows up we are only discussing the Cyprus issue but this time we really focused on the southern neighborhood dimension because I really believe that Cyprus is in a ‘privileged’ – in terms of the geographical location – position and, therefore, knows on cultural terms the thinking of neighbours and colleagues in the southeast of the Mediterranean,” he said.
“Of course, we touched some Cyprus-related issues, but I really want to stress this regional dimension which is of utmost relevance to us.”
CNA quoted Hahn as saying he believed Turkey fully understood that progress must be made on Cyprus for progress to be made on its EU accession path.