Athens and Nicosia, Welcome to Geneva

The road to negotiations is often paved with a certain amount of optimism and sometimes pleasantly lined with welcoming trees and affording lovely vistas. The exits, however, are usually slippery and often treacherous, as slick and combustible…as oil and natural gas.

The Turkish Energy Minister, in his statement to the Anadolu news agency, claimed that Turkish drilling has begun and has already reached 3,000 meters in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

And while bad things – and worse – are happening, the Greek Prime Minister and his Minister of Defense reassure us that we have nothing to fear, while the President of Cyprus expresses…optimism.

But the only ones who have real reasons to be optimistic are the Turks, who are already beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.

What is it that the Turks really want?

What they are demanding is (ignoring international law) to exploit the energy wealth that is in the territorial waters of Cyprus, and of Greece – beginning with the latter’s easternmost island of Kastelorizo.

How do they seek to achieve these goals?

There are two ways: one course entails threats or an actual conflict with Greece and Cyprus with the hope – on their side – of emerging the winners.

The second way, and the most painless, is to achieve what they are demanding by peaceful means, which still includes threats of violence. And Turkish officials, from the President of the country to the Prime Minister of the pseudo-state on occupied Cyprus, are very clear: “Either we also exploit the natural gas, or nobody exploits it.”

“And if you want,” they are signaling, “test us.”

Furthermore, they state, “When we say peacefully, of course, we mean negotiations.”

In other words, they are “inviting us” to recognize their “just” claims at the official negotiating table.

Of course, our allies do not want to see two NATO countries collide, and the solution – for them – is simple: negotiate.

And so in Athens the U.S. Ambassador to Greece said:
“I spoke clearly to these issues last week in my public comments in Washington D.C., and the State Department spokesperson over the weekend reaffirmed the strong American view that now is a time for dialogue and not for further escalatory, provocative actions.”
The problem is that now is not the time for Greece to negotiate. It is actually the worst time to sit down and face such serious national problems that have prevailed for decades. Greece’s negotiating position is very weak after almost ten years of profound economic crisis. Greece’s relative strength is not what it was before the crisis, or it what it will be a few years after the crisis passes.

While the State Department’s call for negotiations is understandable from the point of view of the U.S. and the EU, it is not good for Greece and Cyprus – nor is it good, if they think things through, for the oft-proclaimed interests of the U.S. and the EU in the stability of the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean, to encourage Ankara in any way.

So, it cannot be in any way unclear that the road to Geneva (i.e., to negotiations), is particularly slippery for Greek interests.


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