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Turkish side ‘can’t remain patient forever’ (update 2)

The Saipem 12000

Turkey on Tuesday issued a new Navtex, or notice to mariners, effectively extending a blockade that prevents offshore drilling for natural gas by Italian energy firm ENI inside the island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The new notice reserves the same area for military training and gunnery exercises from February 22 until March 10. The previous Navtex was due to expire on Thursday.

Some two weeks ago Turkish warships, claiming to be participating in military drills in waters off the east of the island, interrupted the Saipem 12000 drillship while en route to Cuttlefish, a site in block 3 where it was scheduled to drill an exploratory gas well.

The new Navtex (0258/18) is effectively a renewal of a previous one (0217/18), bringing the total duration of the Turkish military exercises in the same area to an implausible 30 days.

Anastasiades spoke on the phone with Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras about the issue, according to the Cyprus News Agency (CNA).

A meeting lasting over an hour and a half took place at the presidential palace on Tuesday evening to discuss the matter.

Foreign, energy and defence ministers as well as the attorney-general, under-secretary to the president, the government spokesperson and other technocrats were involved.

CNA reported that Anastasiades was to table the issue surrounding Turkey’s navtex during the informal meeting of the European Council in Brussels, set to begin on February 23 between the heads of state.

Cyprus also issued it’s own navtex 091/18 through the Larnaca search and rescue centre, saying Turkey’s marine notice was an illegal action which “constitutes a violation of international law, affects maritime safety procedures and is also a criminal offence under the laws of the Republic of Cyprus.”

In a tit-for-tat move, Turkey issued a further navtex outlining that the ‘Cyprus’ identified by the notice issued by Larnaca was not the one founded in 1960 and as such was not recognised.

In addition to the initial Navtex, the Turkish Cypriot side escalated its rhetoric. In an interview with the Anadolu news agency, the breakaway regime’s ‘energy minister’ Ozdil Nami asserted that Turkish Cypriots have legitimate claims over “all” of the island’s offshore blocks.

It’s understood he was alluding to the fact that in September 2011 Turkish Cypriots signed a ‘Continental Shelf Delimitation Agreement’ with Turkey. It is on this basis that the breakaway regime declared an ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ of its own, which in effect claims that half of Cyprus’ EEZ belongs to them, including blocks 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 12 and 13.

Nami accused Greek Cypriots of stoking tensions through their ‘unilateral’ actions, adding that the Turkish side could not be expected to “remain patient forever.”

He said a resolution of the hydrocarbons dispute can only be found in the context of a broader political settlement on the island.

But, he added, any fresh talks aimed at reunifying the island should be reframed.

New negotiations could only go ahead if two issues were addressed in advance: first, a firm timeframe for reaching a settlement and, second, a clause stipulating what the status of Turkish Cypriots will be in the event that Greek Cypriots should reject a proposed settlement in a new referendum.

Diplomatic sources cited by the state broadcaster, said Cyprus was going to complain to the UN over Turkey’s gas blockade.

In another related move also on Tuesday, the breakaway regime’s ‘cabinet’ renewed for an additional six years an agreement it signed in 2011 with the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) for hydrocarbon exploration activities offshore Cyprus.

Earlier in the day, and before the new Turkish Navtex was issued, government deputy spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos told reporters that Nicosia was still hoping for a diplomatic solution to the standoff in the EEZ.

“Nicosia does not pursue gunboat diplomacy… the government is working hard behind the scenes. Let us be a little more patient to see the outcome of these efforts,” he added.

Cyprus’ EEZ

Over the weekend, Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign minister’ Kudret Ozersay had suggested that a formula could be found allowing Greek Cypriots to pursue offshore drilling, on condition that Turkish Cypriots were in some way included in these endeavours.

“On the one hand, they [the Greek side] recognise that we are one of the owners of this wealth, and on the other hand, they want to try to continue along this path by disregarding us. This is in line with neither international law nor the notion of justice. If you acknowledge the existence of somebody’s rights, you have to act accordingly,” said Ozersay.

“For one, these resources belong to us as well. So before you take any action regarding these resources, you have to win the consent of the Turkish community and address their concerns.”

Responding, Papadopoulos reiterated that the exploitation of the island’s natural resources would be the purview of the central, federal government in a reunified state.

He therefore urged Turkish Cypriots to return to the negotiating table so that a settlement agreement could be reached to reunite the island.

Reports from the north said that over the weekend Ozersay held contacts with diplomats and company executives in a bid to reach a diplomatic solution.

It also emerged on Tuesday that the UK government is currently assessing the situation.

The matter, which arose during a question and answer session on foreign policy in the House of Commons had Conservative MP Sir Alan Duncan responding to a question from his counterpart Theresa Villiers on whether the UK would “make representations to the Turkish foreign minister to ask the Turkish navy to cease obstructing vessels seeking to extract hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean”?.

Duncan responded saying “I understand the issue to which my RH Friend refers, which is the issue of drilling for oil and gas on the edge of Cyprus; and we are assessing what has been reported over the last days or so on what exactly is happening in that area.”

Turkey itself is laying claim to parts of various blocks in Cyprus’ EEZ saying the areas in question form part of its continental shelf. The claim includes part of blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7, to the south and southwest of the island.

Since February 9 Turkish warships have set up a blockade around the Saipem 12000 on the premise of conducting military exercises in the area. The drillship remains immobilised at a distance of some 50km from the site of the drill.

The rig – contracted by ENI, a company part-owned by the Italian state – cannot stay offshore Cyprus for much longer, as it is reportedly scheduled to carry out drilling off Morocco on March 8.

A continuation of the Turkish military exercises in block 3 would effectively spell the end of ENI’s programme in block 3.

ENI on Tuesday declined to comment on an email query sent by the Cyprus Mail.

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