Cyprus' government denied it was willing to consider a plan that would let any potential gas finds off the island to get to the European Union through a Turkish pipeline, but only if a unity deal is reached.
The government rejected reports in the Turkish press that President Nicos Anastasiades would agree to the plan presented by Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and that Turkey would agree not to try to stop US energy giant ExxonMobil from drilling for energy off the coast.
The Turkish online news portal T24 said there was a a secret pact between Anastasiades and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, citing unnamed security sources.
“I categorically deny that there has been such a discussion or that such an assurance was given,” Government Spokesman Prodromos Prodromou told the Cyprus News Agency.
T24 reported that despite President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's public bombast that he wouldn't let foreign energy companies look for oil and gas off Cyprus, where Turkey has unlawfully occupied the northern third since a 1974 invasion, that Turkey would back off if gas was found and its pipeline became the EU carrier.
“Natural gas will give a big push for a settlement of the Cyprus issue. Contrary to what they are telling the public, the waters in the eastern Mediterranean are not heating up, they are cooling off,” the report said, adding that Greek-Cypriots know that “they will not be able to make money from natural gas in peace without satisfying Ankara.”
Cyprus has said it's confident the US Navy could handle any threats directed at ExxonMobil and that US President Donald Trump wouldn't sit still with any attempted interference.
A Cyprus reunification deal could lead to gas from Israel, Egypt and Cyprus shipped to the EU but only if the Turkish pipeline is used, Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said.
He dangled the idea as a key to finally bringing the island together again some 44 years after the division. Unity talks collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Akinci and Erdogan refused to remove an occupying army and wanted the right to militarily intervene again.
Turkey has a pipeline in place and the EU funded a feasibility study on the proposed East Med pipeline that has the backing of Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy. Turkey has put warships off Cyprus in a bid to keep foreign energy companies from drilling for oil and gas.
ExxonMobil is scheduled to begin exploratory drilling off Cyprus later this month. Turkey opposes a gas search by the Cypriot government, saying it infringes on it rights and those of Turkish-Cypriots to the island's natural resources.