|The United Nations has called on the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides to find a common ground in their gas exploration debate off the coast of the island, as deadlock on the island has become a hindrance on the road to reconciliation, with both sides investing primarily in raising the stakes in the eastern Mediterranean.|
|“The United Nations would appeal to all involved to resolve this matter in a peaceful manner,” Lisa Buttenheim, special representative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was quoted as saying by Reuters on Friday, as she touched on the need for the resources to be for the common use and benefit of both sides.
The debate ignited when Turkey announced on Thursday that it would seek to sign an agreement with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) on the delineation of the continental shelf, in case the Greek Cypriot administration proceeds with its offshore drilling activities to the south of the island. The prospect of such an agreement between the KKTC and Turkey sparked the possibility that Turkey might venture into northern Cypriot waters to conduct its own oil and gas exploration, a move aimed at reciprocating the Greek Cypriot plans to drill for natural resources in the coming month, according to Turkish Cypriot sources. Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, however, said their drill plans were backed by the international community, despite Turkish opposition. “At this moment, we have a very satisfactory shield of political support over these actions [drills],” she was quoted by the AP as saying on Friday.
As could have been foreseen, the Turkish move sparked a reaction from the Greek government, which protested the prospect of the Turkish venture, saying it would exercise its sovereign rights and consider such an agreement “null and void.” “It cannot in any way be associated with the self-evident sovereign right of the Republic of Cyprus to move forward and utilize its natural resources,” a Greek Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying by Reuters on Thursday, signaling that the Greek Cypriot endeavor for oil in the east Mediterranean will not yield to the push from the Turks.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister for Cypriot Affairs Beşir Atalay, meanwhile, considered the Turkish initiative on Thursday a move to protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots, for whom Turkey acts as a guarantor state. Speaking from the KKTC capital of Lefkoşa, Atalay said Greek Cypriots behave as if they are the sole authority on the island and have taken decisions in collaboration with international companies and third parties with no consultation with the Turkish residents of the island. “This stance indicates the insincerity of the Greek Cypriots in trying to settle of Cyprus problem,” Atalay was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.
Defining a continental shelf could enable both Turkey and the KKTC to search for energy reserves, and exploit them even beyond their territorial waters, but natural resources in the seabed are subject to a complex web of regulations and treaties that some countries adhere to while others do not.
Meanwhile, Greek Cypriot reports on Friday claimed that Greek Cypriots have already deployed the drilling platform in its unilaterally declared exclusive economic zone. The move challenges the Turkish warning to the Greek Cypriots that the country would reciprocate Greek aspirations in the east Mediterranean, through cooperation with the KKTC. Reports also acknowledged that the US-based Noble Energy company, under the license it acquired from the Greek Cypriots this summer, deployed its drilling platform in the zone on Thursday, and would start probing on Sept. 21. Citing the Greek Cypriot Ministry of Defense, the Cyprus Mail noted on the sidelines that the Turkish Navy and Air Force were keeping the drilling zone under surveillance from a distance, without violating the Greek Cypriot airspace or territorial waters.
Greek Cypriots, a European Union member since 2004, are also readying to use the Turkish move against the country in its bid for EU membership, claiming that any Turkish interference to block the financial pursuits of an EU member country would come as an assault on the solidarity of the whole union. Turkey, in return, devised a short cut to disrupt Greek Cypriot interests without risking heavy collateral damage, through reciprocating Greek plans for seabed exploitation by striking an agreement with the KKTC, a measure Turkey looks to utilize depending on the next move to come from the Greek side.
Turkey’s aversion to Greek Cypriot plans to proceed with energy exploitation arises from a concern over a one-sided use of resources Turkey considers common resources, to be used by both communities on the island. Turkish officials considered the latest move from Turkey an attempt at delaying the Greek Cypriot probe scheduled for October until the sides reach an agreement of reconciliation under the auspice of the UN at a trilateral meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later on. The Turkish and Greek sides have been engaged in intensified talks for months to reach convergence on core issues, such as administration, property and power sharing on the island, to enable reconciliation after decades of separation between the two communities due to disputes between Greece and Turkey.
Turkish Cypriot officials nevertheless remain hopeful for a solution to be reached as part of the reconciliation efforts of the UN, which has tried to reconcile the communities for years, but caveats from both sides have made it hard to reach a common ground. Mehmet Hasgüler, an assistant professor at the European University of Lefke in the KKTC, told Today’s Zaman on Friday that 2012 would be the possible deadline for the UN goodwill mission to reunite the communities, but if enough convergence isn’t reached by then, the international body might give up on its efforts. “If all hope fades away regarding Cyprus, Turkey might look to impose sanctions, or isolation on the Greeks, and may even resort to a Taiwan model,” Hasgüler suggested, and added, “Turkey will not give up that easily.”
16 September 2011, Friday / CEREN KUMOVA, ANKARA