Eastern-Mediterranean at riskSep 28th, 2011 | By Lamprini Basdeki | Tags: Cyprus, Foreign Policy, Greece, nationalism, non-Member States, Turkey
The US company Noble Energy announced it would start drilling in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus for natural gas, licensed by the Cypriot government. Soon after, Turkish Prime Minister (PM) Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded: Turkey would start drilling in its own economic zone –Turkey and Northern Cyprus.
The island was divided in 1974 when a Turkish invasion separated it into the Cypriot government in the South, which is internationally recognized, and the Northern part of Cyprus, which is recognized and supported only by the Turkish government. There were always tensions between the two sides, but it seemed they escalated after the official announcement made by the Turkish Minister of Interior Besir Atalay this July: “If the peace negotiations there (Cyprus) are not conclusive, and the EU gives its rotating presidency to southern Cyprus, the real crisis will be between Turkey and EU”.
The Turkish PM said he was going to monitor the eastern Mediterranean with aircrafts, frigates and torpedo boats. Though, this statement did not seem to impede Noble Energy to start exploratory drilling for gas, which began just a short time ago. The whole process, according to the Cypriot energy chief Solon Kassinis, is going to last for about 73 days.
Last year, Israeli and Cypriots agreed to explore an area named Block 12. After they began working there, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz presented the drilling for gas in the eastern Mediterranean as a provocation. He repeatedly warned the Cypriots to continue cooperation with Noble Energy – otherwise the Turkish research ships would also start exploring in the area. Erdogan also confirmed this statement: right before leaving for the New York UN summit, he said Turkey was ready to start drilling the following week.
From the Cypriot side, President Dimitris Christofias urged the Turkish government to join the negotiation table, instead of proceeding to any action that would be against the international law. “If and when the Cyprus problem is solved, we will share this gift that nature has given to us”, he said, adding: “they can’t talk about the rights of an illegal state”. He also presented the concerns of Turkey as unjustified and needless for the time being, clarifying that the experts would need at least a year to determine the quality of the deposits.
The European reaction
The EU seems to be alerted by the on-going situation. In response to the threat posed by Turkey concerning the cease of EU-Turkish relations, Maja Kocijancic – spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton – clarified that there were no plans in changing the presidency. Furthermore, the European Commission believes that this delicate situation has to be dealt with from its own root and this is the on-going from 1974 dispute. Brussels urges both sides to make efforts so that they would resolve the territorial conflict, presenting it as the top priority.
No further actions have been taken so far. It is certain at the moment, Cyprus has triggered tensions by conducting research for oil and gas at its southern coast. If Turkey decides to monitor the Cypriot territorial waters, or if it is going to send its own research ships to start drilling as well, it is most definite that tensions are going to reach their highest level, making a military confrontation very possible.
Ankara is strictly refusing any kind of negotiations so far, since it believes that the time of negotiations has come and gone (referring to the effort made by the former UN Secretary General, Kofi A. Anan). The Turkish PM strongly believes that diplomacy is no longer the way to overcome the difficulties with the Cypriot government, which he repeatedly refuses to recognize. What is left to see, is whether the Turkish threats are soon about to become a reality that is going to affect the fragile security in the Mediterranean. He also constantly urges for the unification of the island, stating that no government has any right upon disputable territorial waters. In the case they become real, Turkey will have to confront both Cyprus and Israel – since the disputed Block 12 is an area that is mutually agreed upon research since 2010.
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