Anastasiades Says No Unity Talks If Turkish Ships Return

NICOSIA – President Nicos Anastasiades said he won’t reopen reunification talk if Turkey sends an energy research vessel and warship back into Cypriot waters, complaining his country’s right to explore for natural gas is threatened.

Turkey sent the research ship Barbaros to the south of the island late last year in an area where Cyprus had licensed international companies, including from the US, to look for energy as the government hopes for a lucrative find.

Anastasiades, who had kick started talks with Ankara to reunify the island divided since an unlawful Turkish invasion 40 years ago, stopped them when the ships were sent in and said he won’t go back to the negotiating table until they leave.

Turkey dispatched a research vessel to the south of the island late last year while companies commissioned by the internationally recognized government explored offshore but withdrew it on Dec. 30.

“My participation in a dialogue for a solution to the Cyprus problem is not possible for as long as the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus are being violated,” Anastasiades said in a written statement.

Local media reports said the Turkish vessel, which specializes in collecting seismic data, was now docked in Turkish-occupied Cyprus, awaiting fresh instructions from the Turkish government which is trying to keep a balance between asserting what it says are its rights and not provoking a stronger response from Cyprus, Greece or the international community.

Cyprus and its partner, U.S. energy company Noble, made the first offshore natural gas find in late 2011. A consortium of Italy’s ENI Spa and South Korea’s KoGas is now exploring other areas south of the island.

Turkey says Cyprus has no rights over natural gas and any finds should be equitably shared with Turkish Cypriots. Cyprus says both sides can reap the benefits of gas discoveries once the island is reunited.