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Our View: Deal to hold back drilling worth the wait

Kudret Ozersay

OPPOSITION parties have built quite a convincing case in support of their claim that the government had reached an agreement with the Turkish side over the termination of the exploratory drilling for hydrocarbons that allowed the resumption of the talks. For months, they had been speculating there had been an agreement for the drilling to stop in exchange for Turkey not renewing its Navtex and sending the Barbaros on exploratory trips in the Cypriot EEZ. The government always denied there had been such a deal.

However, questions were asked when it was reported that the Italian company ENI was to start exploratory drills in the EEZ of Egypt bordering that of Cyprus. ENI had stopped its drilling in the Cypriot EEZ, shortly before the resumption of the talks, on the grounds that drilling equipment needed maintenance. At about the same time, the Barbaros withdrew from the Cypriot EEZ and Turkey’s Navtex was not renewed. Since then, reports of a deal have appeared in the Turkish press but were denied by the Anastasiades government.

On Tuesday, however, the Turkish Cypriot former negotiator Kudret Ozersay, on hearing that ENI had resumed drilling in the Cypriot EEZ – an inaccurate report which was corrected later in the day – claimed the Anastasiades government had gone back on its promise to stop the drilling while the talks were in progress. This was seen as confirmation there was a deal and it sparked a barrage of criticism against the government which kept insisting through its spokesman that no promise had been given to Turkey.

But even if there was some understanding reached, why is this considered such an outrage? Is it more important to prove we can exercise our sovereign rights, by drilling in our EEZ than, seizing the opportunity for a settlement? The hydrocarbons will not disappear and Cyprus would be in a much better position to pursue an energy policy in the stable conditions that a settlement would bring. In Cyprus, our politicians seem to think that proving a point principle is an end in itself, and more important than securing tangible benefits through compromise.

The government makes things more difficult for itself by pandering to this thinking instead of openly defending its decisions. Now, everyone will be accusing it of lying about the drilling and they would have a strong case. Had it spoken more openly to start with, the matter would have been closed now and there would be no need for continual denials that few believe. Being on the defensive all the time, to limit opposition criticism, shows the government is weak at a time when it should be showing decisiveness and conviction.

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