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Cyprus dispute – Departure of Barbaros ‘not enough’ to resume talks

Departure of Barbaros ‘not enough’

to resume talks

By Elias Hazou for Cyprus Mail

THE [Greek Cypriot] government yesterday said it would not return to peace talks even if Turkey were to cease its illegal explorations in the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Speaking to the state broadcaster, [GC] government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the withdrawal of the Turkish research vessel Barbaros from the EEZ was only one of two preconditions for the resumption of negotiations.

The other precondition, he said, would be a “tangible demonstration” on Turkey’s part that it respects Cyprus’ sovereignty.

Barbaros ship_4“We want to see Turkey’s response to certain developments in the coming days and weeks,” Christodoulides said.
“No one can give us adequate guarantees that the Barbaros will not return after a possible resumption of the talks.

The aim is not to restart talks for the sake of having talks, but rather to conduct negotiations with prospects for a positive outcome. The departure of the Barbaros alone is not enough.”

The NAVTEX, or marine advisory, issued by Turkey expired on Tuesday. Under the advisory, Turkey had reserved a massive swathe of the Cyprus EEZ for seismic research of hydrocarbons – illegally according to Nicosia.

Yesterday the Barbaros – the Turkish vessel conducting the seismic surveys on behalf of Turkish Cypriots – was anchored off Famagusta port, having returned there late on Tuesday.

As of yesterday, Turkey did not renew the same NAVTEX, but could conceivably issue a new one at any time.

The spokesman also dismissed outright a demand put forward by Turkish Cypriot negotiator Ergun Olgun that Cyprus halt its offshore prospecting for hydrocarbons in tandem with a cessation of Turkish exploration activities in the EEZ, paving the way for a resumption of talks.

“There is no question of discussing such a proposal. This idea/suggestion is not acceptable, it is not even accepted by foreign countries involved in the Cyprus question,” said Christodoulides.

“In any case, this is not possible. The Republic has contractual obligations toward these [oil and gas] companies operating in the EEZ, and we have no right to ask them to suspend their operations,” the official added.

“But I want to stress that it is not our intention, even if we could [ask them to suspend their operations], to do so.”

Christodoulides confirmed reports that [South] Cyprus would press on with its natural gas prospecting as scheduled.

Gas exploration rig imageA drillship operating on behalf of the ENI-KOGAS consortium would soon be heading to another target in offshore block 9, dubbed ‘Amathusa’.

The drillship would commence drilling there sometime within the first fortnight of January, the spokesman said.

Cyprus has already issued its own marine advisory for the new drilling operation; the advisory will reportedly be in effect until March 19.

[GC] President Nicos Anastasiades appears to have hardened his stance. In comments last week, the President indicated he was not ready to return to the negotiating table, and ruled out including hydrocarbons on the talks agenda, as the Turkish side wants.

In doing so, Anastasiades has the backing of almost all opposition parties. DIKO, EDEK, the European Party and the Citizens Alliance have all warned the President against being lured back to negotiations.

Should Turkey refrain from any actions in the EEZ, that would make it that much harder for Anastasiades to argue against the resumption of negotiations.

The government’s strategy on the peace talks – now intertwined with the hydrocarbons issue – is to be reviewed at a meeting of party leaders under Anastasiades scheduled for January 12.

And before that, on January 2, Anastasiades will be hosting an informal gathering of the leaders at his Presidential retreat in Troodos to discuss the same.

Speaking to the Mail, Christodoulides explained that his earlier remarks regarding Turkey’s behaviour in the coming days related to the operations of ENI-KOGAS.

“Provided there is no harassment by Turkey, in any shape or form, of ENI’s operations, and no new NAVTEX is issued, there is a chance for negotiations to resume.”

Commenting on media reports, the spokesman said also the government has no knowledge of an upcoming visit to the island by UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide.

Turkey does not recognise the Republic nor Nicosia’s jurisdiction in the EEZ, and says Greek Cypriots are acting ‘unilaterally’ in prospecting for hydrocarbons without including Turkish Cypriots.

Source: Cyprus Mail