Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci has formalised a proposal he has made in the past to set up a joint committee for cooperation on hydrocarbons by officially handing it over through the UN on Saturday, and sending it to Antonio Guterres and EU heads.
The manoeuvre comes just two days before the EU is set to take certain measures against Ankara in retaliation for illegal drilling for gas and oil off Cyprus, which Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned on Friday would backfire.
Akinci on Saturday conveyed his proposal to President Nicos Anastasiades through the Coordinator of the UN Good Offices Mission Sergiy Illarionov.
According to Turkish Cypriot BRT website, the aim of presenting the proposal through the UN aimed at giving Anastasiades a chance to pre-examine, and later evaluate the proposal at a tete-a-tete meeting between the leaders, which is currently in the works.
It said Akinci wanted to change the hydrocarbons’ issue from one of tension and conflict to cooperation. The proposal involves the establishment of a joint committee under the supervision of the UN which would have the same number of members from both sides, and an independent observer.
His proposal is also said to outline the structure, targets and methodology of the committee and includes the establishment of a fund and details on how this fund would be used. Akinci also sent the proposal to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the EU Commission and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, BRT said.
Ankara welcomed “and fully supported Turkish Cypriot president’s joint use of hydrocarbon resources with the Greek side”, a Turkish foreign ministry announcement said.
“The proposal foresees that Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, as equal partners of the island, should cooperate on the hydrocarbon resources to which they have equal rights, including income sharing and benefit from these resources simultaneously,” the statement said.
It said if accepted, the proposal “will initiate a new period of cooperation between the two sides, contribute to the development of regional peace, stability and cooperation and provide a suitable basis for the solution of the Cyprus issue”.
The ministry called on all interested parties, including the UN and the EU, and in particular the other two guarantor powers, Greece and Britain, “to take this important opportunity, support this proposal of cooperation, and encourage co-operation on the island’s hydrocarbon resources”.
“Our country’s commitment to protecting the equal rights of the Turkish Cypriots on the island’s natural resources as well as its own continental shelf rights in the Eastern Mediterranean is total,” the foreign ministry said.
“We will continue our determined and principled stance on protecting these rights until the rights of the Turkish Cypriots are guaranteed, it added.
Akinci’s proposal is likely to be welcomed by Guterres as the issue is part of what’s stalling the peace process from moving forward. In his latest report during the week, Guterres struck at a note of concern but kept his language neutral. “I have repeatedly stressed that the natural resources found in and around Cyprus should benefit both communities and constitute a strong incentive for all parties to find a mutually acceptable and durable solution to the Cyprus problem,” he said.
The government has not officially responded to the report as yet but CNA, citing sources on Friday said Nicosia was unhappy that the UN chief did not come down harder on Turkey over its activities in the island’s EEZ, unlike the EU, which has stood in solidarity with Cyprus although its approved measures are not far-reaching.
“Despite our best intentions to keep good neighbourly relations with Turkey, its continued escalation and challenge to the sovereignty of our Member State Cyprus will inevitably lead the EU to respond in full solidarity,” Donald Tusk, president of the European Council of ministers, said during the week.
Cavusoglu said on Friday that any steps the EU would take against Ankara over Cyprus would backfire. According to Turkish news agency Anadolu, Cavusoglu said: “The steps that it [EU] would take towards us would be useless, it would backlash”.
A draft text on measures against Turkey prepared by the EU, the silent approval procedure for which ended without any objections by member states, is set to be presented before the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Monday for adoption.
As regards the substance of the measures, as was provided for by the texts proposed by the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) it is envisaged that enlargement funds of €146m from the pre-accession funds of Turkey will be cut, the investment activity of the European Investment Bank in Turkey will be frozen, the EU-Turkey aviation agreement will be frozen and a series of high-level EU-Turkey dialogues will be cancelled.
But, as the bloc needs Turkey in matters such as security and migration, an EU diplomat involved in the latest discussions told Reuters any future sanctions would be limited. “It would only be targeting people linked to these specific illegal activities. We’re trying to calibrate that carefully because we need Turkish cooperation on migration, NATO, countering terrorism.”
“Some member states rely on Turkey for energy transit so we must tread carefully. Don’t expect any wide economic sanctions.”
Cavusoglu said the EU should not “stand behind the wrong” in the name of “so-called solidarity”. He said Turkey would take additional steps if such moves were made against it.
“No one can prevent it,” he warned, blaming the Greek Cypriots for “violating Turkish Cypriots’ rights” by drilling activities without involving the latter. Cavusoglu said Ankara only began drilling activities when its warnings were not heeded.
Cavusoglu was speaking at a joint news conference with his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis in Ankara. Cassis was in Cyprus earlier in the week and was given a message by the government to pass on to Ankara regarding its violation of the island’s EEZ.
Cavusoglu also thanked his Swiss counterpart for always hosting the negotiations on Cyprus issue. Cassis said the two countries have enjoyed bilateral ties for nearly a century, and Switzerland wished to strengthen them further. Turkey was a very important country with which to discuss regional issues, he said.