Mehmet Ali Talat, the former president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), evaluated the recent tension in the eastern Mediterranean ignited by the unilateral claims of the Greek Cypriot administration that invited western energy companies for gas exploration in the region.
After Italian energy giant ENI's attempts were thwarted by Turkish war ships, the Greek Cypriot administration allowed American energy company ExxonMobil to explore hydrocarbon resources in the unilaterally declared exclusive economic zone, or EEZ.
But Talat emphatically stated that the tension is no longer sustainable and ExxonMobil will have to return to the U.S. as ENI's drilling vessel and the Greek Cypriot administration will comprehend the immediate necessity of solution. He therefore emphasized that the only way to mitigate this conflict is the restore resolution which recognizes the rights of Turkish Cypriots to utilize the resources in the region.
In an interview with the Turkish newspaper Takvim, Talat, the second president of the TRNC, assessed developments in the region.Talat said the unilateral gas exploration activities of Greek Cypriots, who first called ENI and then ExxonMobil for drilling, are blocked by Turkey. He sighted that if Turkey continues to show its commitment, all the cards will be taken from the Greek Cypriots.
Pointing to the economic crisis experienced in the Greek Cypriot side as the main reason behind the pressure, Talat said they are trying to deepen the issue in order to the reduce the social pressure created by the economic crisis.
Noting that the Greek Cypriots could not find what they had hoped for in their agreement with Italian ENI, Talat said the Greek Cypriots expected the EU, U.S. and U.N. to step in to push Turkey aside and deter it from this.
He stressed that this did not happen and in turn, ENI developed a formula by talking with their side, which resulted in a text confirming that the Turkish Cypriots were also entitled to the gas to be extracted.
"The Greek Cypriot side said, ‘This is our right of sovereignty, we will not bargain with the Turks.' As such, ENI got angry, gave up the drill and left the area," Talat continued. "Turkish war ships had come to the region, but ENI left by crossing with the Greek Cypriot side, who did not accept this compromise."
Talat said he thinks ExxonMobil will also leave the region the same way, because of the stance of the Greek Cypriot side in this regard. He added that the support from the U.S. and the EU has spoiled the Greek Cypriots.
He also highlighted that the Turkish Cypriots' rights exist not only on paper and that if they have rights, it must also be applied. "But the Greek side says no," he added, noting that they oppose this compromise. He said that they will grant the share of the Turkish Cypriots by issuing a law in Parliament.
"We oppose this, and we also have a say in this regard. The Greek side sees itself in a castle-like place," Talat said.
"Will the U.S. conduct drilling activities by protecting a company in controversial waters? The relations with Turkey are already quite bad, will they take this chance? Do they want the relationship to get worse? After all, this drilling will last for years and will the 6th Fleet guard the ship during all this time," Talat stated, underlining that this is not rational, and that ExxonMobil will not be able to succeed.
"I do not think the U.S. is that interested in this business. If it is interested, it is probably because of ExxonMobil," Talat added. "The capacity is not strategically very large, and it will ultimately benefit the EU, not the U.S. I do not think they will be interested."
Talat said that Cyprus is in the EU, but some of the EU countries are suffering from the whims of the Greek Cypriots. When asked whether the two-state structure is inevitable in case of the lack of a federal solution, Talat said the two-state structure will be on the table as an option, but not as the only option, pointing out that an agreement is required since they need a solution. "If we cannot agree on the federation, can we agree on a two-state structure? I think this is more difficult. But perhaps the Greek Cypriot side would prefer a two-state structure by seeing it as a continuation of the status quo," Talat said.