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Fracas over gas ‘no drilling’ deal

ENI-KOGAS's drill ship the Saipem 10000

By Jean Christou

POLITICAL parties yesterday called on the government for explanations after former Turkish Cypriot negotiator Kudret Ozersay appeared to let it slip that the Greek Cypriot side had stalled hydrocarbons exploration for the sake of resuming the Cyprus talks.

On Tuesday, Ozersay wrongly announced that the ENI-KOGAS drill ship Saipem 10000 had returned to Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

It had left in April just prior to the election of Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci. At the same time the Turkish seismic exploration vessel Barbaros, which had been surveying in Cyprus’ EEZ s since late last year causing President Nicos Anastasiades to pull out of the talks with then Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, also left Famagusta port a day later.

Anastasiades had said he would not return to the table unless the Barbaros left, while Turkey demanded Cyprus stop drilling. The subsequent election of Akinci combined with the departure of the Saipem to Italy for maintenance, and the return of the Barbaros to Turkey then opened the way for talks to resume, while both sides appeared not to have backed down due to the ‘window of opportunity’ that had presented itself.

However, Ozersay on Tuesday said the Saipem’s return meant “the Greek Cypriot side violated its word given at the resumption of the Cyprus talks”, according to Turkish Cypriot media.

He said that while the Turkish side had stopped its activities regarding the natural gas issue for the sake of the negotiations, “the Greek Cypriot side continues to do it despite the Cyprus talks”. This was a serious injustice against Turkish Cypriots, he said.

“I don’t say let’s stop the negotiations or let’s send a vessel immediately. However, he added that it was an issue of trust when it came to “matters which are already agreed”.

Ozersay however was in error. The Saipem did return to the region but to Egypt’s EEZ, which borders Cyprus’.

The former negotiator tweeted later on Tuesday that he had only been citing reports and was not trying to stir up trouble for the talks.

Though Ozersay was mistaken in his assessment of the Saipem’s activities, his comments about an agreement did not go unnoticed among Greek Cypriot political parties.

Opposition DIKO was first to call for clarifications wondering whether the comments were just random statements by Ozersay or whether Anastasiades had backed down in the face of Turkish demands to stop drilling.

“If the government of Mr Anastasiades consented to [UN Special Adviser Espen Barth] Eide’s proposal to suspend exploration in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic so that Turkey would withdraw the Barbaros and the talks would resume, then the people should know,” the party said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, everything indicates that President Anastasiades has made a tragic retreat to integrate the gas issue – a sovereign right of the Republic of Cyprus – into the agenda of the negotiations on the Cyprus issue.”

The Green Party cited an interview with Energy minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis in Phileleftheros on Sunday in which he had asserted the suspension of activities in the island’s EEZ were geological and not political. “Today, we learn that ENI’s rig Saipem 10000 is preparing to launch new drilling in the Egyptian EEZ,” the party said. At the same time, Cyprus had suspended its hydrocarbons activities in a manner that had nothing to do with the exploitation of natural resources and everything to do with the “persistence of the Cypriot government in maintaining a good climate with Turkey”, and the government had failed to convince otherwise, it added.

Junior coalition partner EVROKO called for an end to confrontation over the issue, saying it would only cause unnecessary damage to the energy interests of the Republic.

However, the party said the government had an obligation to consult with the political forces on natural gas issues and take into account their views and concerns.

“At the same time the parties have to end the unnecessary sensationalism with statements that add grist to the Turkish propaganda mill,” the party said.

Deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos, in a written statement said some of the political parties seemed unable to stop bombarding the public with “non-existent issues and unbridled populism” even during the summer holidays.

“There has never been any kind of agreement or understanding with anyone on suspending the energy programme of the Republic,” he said. “The programme is proceeding rapidly on all levels. The proof of this is the recent exchange of visits between President Anastasiades and the Prime Minister of Israel Mr [Benjamin] Netanyahu and as previously stated… we are in constant negotiations with Egypt.”

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