In bid to 'stall for time' Greek Cyprus rejects TRNC's hydrocarbon proposal, then suggests cooperation with Ankara

Published 21.07.2019 00:28

The Greek Cypriot administration's statement suggesting cooperation with Turkey after it first rejected an offer from the Turkish Cypriot side to establish a cooperation mechanism for joint exploration and profit-sharing of hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean is aimed at "stalling for time," Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Dönmez said.

Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) President Mustafa Akıncı presented the proposal through the United Nations last week, calling for the joint use of Cypriot resources and cooperation between the two sides in the search for gas off the island. Turkey welcomed and fully supported the proposal, saying it envisages cooperation, including revenue sharing, that enables the two sides to benefit from hydrocarbon resources simultaneously.

Ankara called on the U.N., EU and particularly the guarantor states to take the opportunity and to encourage cooperation on the island's hydrocarbon resources.

However, Greek Cypriots rejected it on Tuesday, saying in a statement the proposal was far from the essence of the Cyprus problem and could not be accepted because it contained elements that did not serve Greek Cypriot interests.

Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides on July 17 said, "Cooperation with Turkey will benefit all sides in the Eastern Mediterranean."

"We can only decide through dialogue with Turkey how we will create solutions to problems in the region. We cannot change the region; we have to find solutions to the problems in the region, with the regional countries," Christodoulides had said at an event in Athens. "I consider it as a contradiction to first reject the first offer [hydrocarbon proposal] and then make this proposal. There is currently no contact with us. We do not approve an offer that ignores Turkish Cyprus. Firstly, Greek Cyprus needs to seriously evaluate the proposal for a joint cooperation committee," Dönmez was cited as telling reporters in the capital Ankara on Thursday.

Turkey in talks with other firms for exploration

When asked of the possibility of cooperation with Russia and China in the Eastern Mediterranean, Dönmez confirmed that the public company Turkish Petroleum is in talks with other companies concerning exploration activities in the region.

"Turkish Petroleum is already in talks with some companies, some steps there as well as mutual projects could be developed. However, it is not right to announce the names now," he said.

Since this spring, Ankara has sent two drilling vessels - the Fatih and most recently the Yavuz to the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting the rights of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) to the resources of the region.

The Turkish-flagged drillship Fatih launched its offshore drilling operations on May 3 in an area located 75 kilometers off the western coast of Cyprus. The area falls entirely within the Turkish continental shelf registered with the U.N. and in permit licenses that the Turkish government granted to Turkish Petroleum in 2009 and 2012.

The second Turkish drillship, the Yavuz, arrived south of Karpas Peninsula on the eastern edge of the island recently and is expected to launch drilling operations soon. Yavuz will operate on behalf of Turkish Cypriots within the areas granted by the TRNC to the Turkish Petroleum in 2011.

Turkey's first seismic vessel, the Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa, has been carrying out exploration in the Mediterranean since April 2017.

The EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted late Monday a conclusion on Turkish drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. It decided to suspend negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement and agreed not to hold the Association Council and further meetings of the EU-Turkey high-level dialogues for the time being. Furthermore, the EU also suggested the European Investment Bank (EIB) review its lending program for Turkey.

Turkey resolutely stressed that EU actions against Turkey would not yield major results and are not an element of deterrence for Turkey to abandon its efforts in the region.

Following the European Union Foreign Affairs Council decision, Turkey said it will increase its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and send a fourth ship to the region.

Dönmez said on Thursday the national seismic exploration vessel Oruç Reis would be sent to the Mediterranean within the next month to conduct seismic research for oil and gas around Cyprus after completing its current activities in the Marmara Sea.

Noting that the Turkish side had ramped up its efforts in the Eastern Mediterranean after 2011, TRNC's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay underlined that its recent steps were not intended to create tension.

"Our activities are not aimed at preventing Greek Cypriots' activities, rather [they are] aimed to balance them," he told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Friday.

"Using force in the Eastern Mediterranean is out of the question, unless someone tries to hinder our commercial activities," he added.

Özersay stressed that it was unfair to demand that the Turkish Cypriots postpone their right to use natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean until a solution was reached, while Greek Cypriots are allowed to use these resources now, without a solution.

Özersay highlighted that energy or natural resources represented another area in which the parties could make progress before a final agreement.

Stressing the importance of regional actors' inclusion in any such platform for cooperation, he said this would facilitate greater stability and security.

"The issue of natural gas stands as a concrete opportunity for us to develop interdependence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots," Özersay added.

Turkey has made continuous efforts to protect its sovereign rights and the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean region, where it has been drilling in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which was registered with the United Nations in 2004.

It has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration's unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying Turkish Cypriots also have rights to resources in the area.

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