Getting strong backing from new Greek Premier and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said there will no resumption of talks to reunify the island until Turkey stops drilling for energy offshore and backs off.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, defying demands from Cyprus, Greece, the European Union and United States which backs the legitimate government’s right to license foreign companies to hunt for oil and gas in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ,) has ordered full speed ahead for drilling.
That has raised fears of a conflict, accidental or otherwise, as Anastasides likened the incursion by two Turkish energy ships, guarded by warships nearby, to an “energy invasion,” akin to Turkey unlawfully seizing the northern third of the island in 1974.
Anastasiades said after talks with Mitsotakis that Turkey’s drilling near where France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and the US’ ExxonMobil have licenses to look create “suspicion and mistrust” that do nothing to prepare the ground for reviving peace talks.
Those collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they would never remove a 35,000-strong standing army on the occupied land and wanted the right to militarily intervene again when they wanted.
One Turkish vessel is drilling 42 miles off Cyprus’ western coast while another plans to start east of the island. Ankara says it’s defending its rights and those of Turkish-Cypriots in the island’s breakaway north to the region’s energy reserves.
Anastasiades is set to meet Akinci on Aug. 9 to scope out chances for resuming full-fledged negotiations but said prospects have dimmed with the drilling and that there’s essentially no chance of going ahead unless the drilling stops, which Erdogan said won’t happen.
Anastasiades had offered to share potentially lucrative energy revenues with Turkish-Cypriots but that wasn’t enough for Akinci and Erdogan who said they want their side to also take part in the licensing and have a bigger role in the process.
On his first visit to Cyprus since being elected on July 7, Mitsotakis said that ending the occupation of the divided island’s north by Turkey is a “top priority,” as reunification without the departure of Turkish troops would be “inconceivable.”
Speaking after a meeting with Anastasiadis in Nicosia, where he was received with full honors, Mitsotakis said he felt “moved” by the fact that his first visit abroad since becoming Prime Minister was to Cyprus, said Kathimerini.
He said that talks between the two leaders focused on developments with Turkey, as the visit was taking place “during a period of particular tension,” while also expressing optimism over scheduled peace talks between Anastasiadis and Akinci.
He said Cyprus can rely on Greece – which, along with Turkey and the former Colonial ruler the United Kingdom which still has military bases there are guarantors of security for the island, where there’s also a United Nations peacekeeping force.
The EU has set sanctions against Turkey but Anastasiades said they aren’t tough enough and called for ramped up penalties to force an end to the drilling although UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who was at the Swiss debacle and wants reunification, has steered clear of the drilling duel.