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Stakes raised in gas game, Cyprus reaches out diplomatically

Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides

Foreign minister Nicos Christodoulides on Friday discussed with several chief diplomats the situation in Libya, following the security and maritime accord between Tripoli and Ankara, while Cyprus’ energy minister struck a defiant note by reiterating Cyprus will forge ahead with its gas exploration plans.

According to the Cyprus News Agency, over the past two days, Christodoulides spoke on the phone with at least five counterparts whose states either have skin in the game in the eastern Mediterranean or are concerned over the recent pact struck between Turkey and Libya.

Christodoulides held telephone conversations with: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry; United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan; Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi; and Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Cyprus’ top diplomat is said to have underlined to his counterparts the need to create conditions de-escalating the Libyan crisis after the stakes were raised even higher with Ankara’s recent pledge to militarily back the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.

Earlier in the week, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said his country will be sending troops to Libya at the request of Tripoli as soon as next month.

Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has been struggling to fend off General Khalifa Haftar’s forces from eastern Libya, which have been supported by Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan.

Last month, Ankara signed two separate accords with the GNA, led by Fayez al-Serraj, one on security and military cooperation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean.

The maritime deal ends Turkey’s isolation in the East Mediterranean as it ramps up offshore energy exploration that has alarmed Greece and some other neighbours. The military deal would preserve its lone ally in the region, Tripoli.

Moscow has voiced concerns over a possible Turkish military deployment to Libya in support of the GNA.

Turkish and Russian officials held talks in Moscow this week to seek a compromise on the issues of both Libya and Syria, where Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad.

In the Mediterranean, Turkey is at loggerheads with Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel over rights to resources off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus. Athens says Ankara’s maritime deal with Tripoli violates international law.

This year Turkey dispatched two drillships to three locations inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, in areas which Turkey says either fall within its own ‘continental shelf’ or else are claimed by the breakaway state in northern Cyprus.

But energy minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis told the state broadcaster that Cyprus would be pursuing its energy programme regardless.

The state broadcaster also said a new round of gas explorations is slated to kick off early next year, with nine drills planned over a two-year period.

At least two of the drills would be taking place inside block 10, licensed to a consortium of ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum.

Meanwhile on January 2 Cyprus, Greece, and Israel are to sign an agreement for the construction of the EastMed pipeline, seen as a response to the Turkey-Libya maritime deal.

The $7-9 billion pipeline would have to cross the planned Turkey-Libya economic zone.

Cyprus has tried its hand at regional geopolitics by entering into several loose trilateral alliances with neighbouring nations – except Turkey – but to date the policy has failed to yield the desired results, the main opposition party warned on Friday.

“Certainly the trilaterals are useful…but let us not cultivate delusions that our partnerships with neighbours will shield us militarily,” said Akel leader Andros Kyprianou

“We need to take stock of this policy, to assess whether our conduct has drawn us closer or farther away from a solution to the Cyprus problem,” he added.

On the upcoming signing of the EastMed deal, Kyprianou advised against blowing it out of proportion.

“The agreement has political meaning and nothing more, it lacks heft. It is the companies which will decide, based on their bottom line, if the EastMed gets built.

“And the government should make this point clear, rather than pull the wool over people’s eyes.”



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