By George Psyllides and Andria Kades
DEFENCE minister Christoforos Fokaides said Friday there was no cause for concern from Turkey’s moves in relation with the island’s offshore natural gas exploration activity, while the foreign ministry issued a separate statement saying that legislation will be ready soon to determine a wealth fund from where all Cypriots would benefit.
Speaking in Limassol, Fokaides said Turkey’s provocations had been expected and should not cause concern. The National Guard is monitoring the situation but it did not serve national interest to reproduce a climate of tension, he added.
“We should not get carried away either in creating or reproducing a climate of tension, whose only objective is to scupper or postpone our energy plans,” the defence minister said. “There is no cause for concern or panic; the sooner we stop preoccupying ourselves with what is going on at the drillship on a daily basis, the better.”
Ankara announced it had dispatched a frigate to monitor a drillship conducting offshore gas exploration south of the island.
The Turkish armed forces general staff said on its website that it ordered the frigate TCG Gokceada to track the West Capella drillship that arrived in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the early hours of Wednesday.
“The (frigate) is fulfilling its duty in the eastern Mediterranean monitoring the West Capella… which, it is assessed, may carry out drilling activities,” the military said.
On Thursday, Turkey said it would take measures against Greek Cypriot exploration for oil or gas around Cyprus, according to its foreign minister who added that Turkish Cypriots had rights on those reserves.
Fokaides said these were Turkey’s usual moves “also seen in previous drills,” and did not rule out the possibility of the provocations continuing in a bid to create a tense climate.
“We are doing what we have to do. It is not the benefit of our national interests to militarize the matter; we are monitoring the situation closely … and remain focused to the national objective, which is the realisation of our plans,” he said.
The foreign ministry in turn issued a statement saying legislation was currently in parliament on creating a national investment fund where profits from hydrocarbons would go “towards the benefit of all Cypriots.”
Results of explorations should interest the Turkish Cypriot community as the future wealth would be shared, however Turkey should follow international law, the statement added.
“The real reason the negotiations reaped no result is Turkey’s constant wish to completely control and interfere on the island whenever it considers it necessary, using the interests of Turkish Cypriots as a pretext.”
Energy minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said drilling could begin as early as Saturday or Sunday the latest and everything was on schedule.
His Turkish counterpart Berat Albayrak, however, said Morphou would be the next stop for the research vessel Barbaros after Famagusta.
Speaking to the Turkish press, he was quoted as saying, “we’ve completed investigations in Famagusta. Hopefully our next step is Morphou. The area of Morphou is important for us.
“With our work in Morphou, we will play an effective role in the eastern Mediterranean.”
Albayrak told reporters that there had been contacts with oil companies which he did not name, but that had been very constructive. He said the companies were reluctant in engaging work in dangerous territory.
“Without a legal solution to the (Cyprus) problem, it isn’t right for these companies to take steps in dangerous areas,” he said, adding that some firms did not share the same stance for which Turkey did not view positively.
Hydrocarbons in Cyprus belong to the whole island, “but if you do what you want, dividing it into blocks and licencing them to companies, as a guarantor power, it isn’t possible for us to see this in positive light,” Albayrak said.
The European Commission urged Turkey to refrain from friction that could damage good neighbourly relations.
Spokeswoman Maja Kocijianic, reiterated the “long standing position of the European Commission that “communication channels should remain open” and that “parties should avoid friction that could damage neighbourly relations”.
President Nicos Anastasiades, speaking at the French embassy which was celebrating Bastille Day, said that although the desired result was not achieved at the Conference on Cyprus in Crans-Montana, what was achieved was that “for the first time, in the epicentre of the talks, was the security of Cypriots and not serving the geopolitical interests of any third country.”
“Turkey’s insistence, but I have to say that of the Turkish Cypriot side too, on the chapters to do with security and guarantees and their insistence to maintain the 1960 guarantees is anachronistic which has no place in 2017.”
Proposals submitted by Anastasiades dealt with concerns the Turkish Cypriot side had, he said, but nevertheless, work now needed to be exerted on creating conditions to allow for optimism that there would be an end to the “current unacceptable situation.”
Anastasiades said there was no doubt that cooperation between Cyprus and France, particularly with energy giant Total currently set to begin drilling on the island’s exclusive economic zone block 11, boosts relations between the two countries that also have a mutual goal to combat terrorism.