On the surface, the suggestion about selling natural gas to Turkey by presidential candidate Andreas Mavroyiannis, seems like a good way of breaking the deadlock in the talks. With direct talks for a settlement stalled since President Anastasiades walked out of the Crans-Montana conference five years ago, it would always have required some out of the box thinking to get things moving again.
Anastasiades’ confidence-building proposals followed a similar rationale although they were not as ground-breaking. They had been bandied about in the past, at different times, so they were not something new and unprecedented like Mavroyiannis’ idea, which did not ask for anything in exchange. This calculated omission was criticised by one party that considered it inconceivable to take such a daring step without demanding something in return.
Of course, the proposal might be a bit premature, considering that we are nowhere near extracting any gas from our gas field. We have still not agreed a deal with Israel for the Aphrodite block, which is a pre-condition for selling the gas, despite years of negotiations, and the finds in other blocks do not seem to anywhere near being extracted and sold.
Admittedly, securing a market like Turkey could make oil companies consider setting up the infrastructure, including the pipelines for transporting the gas. The fact that Turkey would be on board as the buying country, would eliminate all the concerns of the oil companies, which were terrified of Turkey’s threats that fostered regional instability.
There are, however, political obstacles to reaching such a deal. Turkey does not recognise the Cyprus Republic so how would it enter an agreement with it to buy its gas? Would President Erdogan, who faces elections next year and needs the nationalist vote take such a step that would undermine the regime in the north?
The way round this, which Ankara could propose, would be the setting up of a joint committee or entity made up of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to administer Cyprus’ hydrocarbons. Such an arrangement would never be accepted by the Greek Cypriots, no matter how it is sold to them. The parties and newspapers would be up in arms, and they would have little difficulty in rousing strong public opposition to this move that would, among other things, lead to the upgrading of the pseudo-state and make the Republic dependent on the Turkish market.
Could any president sell such an idea to the Greek Cypriots? Telling them that such an agreement would lead to the resumption of talks for a settlement is unlikely to work as a persuasive argument.