Cyprus Unity Talks Resume as Turkey Steps Up Energy Research Off Island

FILE - Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades signs a declaration during an EU summit meeting at the Orazi and Curiazi Hall in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome on Saturday, March 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

NICOSIA – Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci broke a two-month hiatus to resume unity talks on April 20 even as Turkey said it would start seismic research in the bay of Famagusta, encroaching on the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The meeting lasted for two-and-a-half hours, InCyprus said. “The climate in the meeting was good but the differences are still there,” was the brief statement Anastasiades made to journalists at the Presidential Palace upon his return.

It was the leaders’ first meeting since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan narrowly won a referendum giving him sweeping new powers that critics said bordered on dictatorial as he continued to crack down in the wake of a failed July, 2016 coup attempt against him.

Cyprus has granted international companies the right to drill and search for oil and gas as Turkey demanded a share if finds are made even as Ankara stepped up its own research, setting off jitters and rocking the unity talks.

The signing of more exploration contracts with major energy players Exxon Mobil, Total, Eni and Qatar Petroleum only prompted Turkey to escalate its threats in the region and dispatch its own exploration vessel within the disputed waters off Paphos.

Both leaderships have drawn criticism of late with the Turkish-Cypriot coalition slammed for banning a Greek Cypriot church service in Famagusta to take place during Easter.

But Cyprus was criticized too with accusations delegations of school children from different countries that had arrived at Larnaca airport to attend a dance festival in the breakaway north were turned away.

The Cyprus Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it reserves the right to take all actions necessary in accordance with international law if Turkey conducts research within its EEZ and its continental shelf off the coast of Famagusta.

“This will constitute a violation of the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the Cyprus Republic,” the ministry said in a statement.