Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci ramped up the rhetoric on hydrocarbons exploitation on Tuesday, warning that the risks to the talks he spoke about last year were coming to pass, including tensions connected with drilling slated for June or July.
Although the gas issue was not discussed between the two leaders during their first meeting on Tuesday after an eight-week hiatus, Akinci was clear in his warning.
He referred to looming tensions over planned drilling in the island’s exclusive economic zone.
“This should not be seen as a threat but as a reality,” he said on his return to the north after meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades. “There is no need to mention the risks inherent in this in case there is no [Cyprus] agreement. Today I warned about it once more,” he added.
“To avoid this, either drilling must be postponed or we need to accelerate the solution so there is sufficient time for a settlement by July if all focus is given to this process, and if there is a sincere will.”
Earlier, Anastasiades when asked whether drilling had been discussed with Akinci said it was not possible to accept negotiating “on the sovereignty of the Republic”.
The leaders did agree to meet four times starting from April 20, and that their two negotiators would begin work on Wednesday.
Akinci said the next few months would be very important. He said he had indicated in 2016 that the risks to the process including drilling, and the 2018 Greek Cypriot presidential election, if a deal was not reached by the end of last year.
“I tried to emphasise the risks that existed in 2017 and they have begun to appear,” Akinci said.
He said the Turkish Cypriot side wanted the energy sector to become one of cooperation, and a catalyst for unification rather than division.
“We want a fair distribution of this natural wealth in the knowledge that it belongs to both communities. But we know that this will not be feasible without a solution,” he added.
But he did say the Turkish Cypriot side was not at the point of breaking off the talks due to the planned drilling. When a similar situation arose in 2014, it was not the Turkish Cypriots who walked away from the talks, he said.
“We do not shy away from a solution, we say come and solve it,” he said.
He referred to Anastasiades’ stance in not discussing gas at the talks because of the sovereign rights of the Republic, and reiterated that energy was already laid down in the joint statement of 2014 as a matter for the federal Cyprus government.
On other negotiating chapters, Akinci let loose over the lack of progress on political equality. “How many times do you try to convince each other on the issue of effective participation? This has a limit. You cannot go further. This matter has reached the point of exhaustion,” he said, suggesting it was time to turn to the UN for help.
UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide said on Monday his mandate had not changed but he was open to aiding the leaders to whatever extent they both wished. Akinci had said on Sunday he wanted to see more shuttle diplomacy between the UN, the two sides and the guarantor powers, plus he would not be averse to hearing oral bridging ideas from the UN. This led to speculation about arbitration, something all sides have denied.
Anastasiades when asked on Tuesday whether Eide would have a new role in the coming meetings as reported, said he would not, other than when asked by both sides to address specific questions. Akinci reaffirmed this was the case.
“This process will continue but will not stop the UN developing some creative ideas, maintaining neutrality and keeping an equal distance between the sides,” said Akinci.
“They can develop some bridging ideas to reduce the distances between the sides without it being arbitration. These suggestions can be made orally. We are ready to hear them.”
The aim now was to bridge gaps and call a new Geneva-style conference on security and guarantees.
Anastasiades, asked the same question about a new conference being in the pipeline said: “Yes, in the sense that if there is progress to such an extent in pending matters that would allow us to go there. We are not against the conference for the guarantees and the presence of occupation troops, just not under conditions set by Turkey, but as a result of free dialogue between the two leaders.”
As for the process in the coming weeks, Anastasiades said it would neither be formal nor informal when it came to scheduling.
“It depends on the will, the real will to reach a solution and the positions that will be deposited by both sides in these four meetings and subsequent meetings. Therefore, there is no specific timetable nor specific enhanced role of the United Nations,” he added.
Anastasiades said he hoped the new round of talks would bring the two sides to a point where there could be enough convergences that would lead to a solution but laid down his own red lines.
“Convergences must comply with the European acquis, the principles and values of the EU and international law and that will create a functional state and will not ignore any concerns,” he said.
Asked about the so-called new methodology to be followed, the president said he had already submitted a format by means of his proposal for a tryptich where convergences, understandings and differences would be listed separately.
Both leaders said the meeting on Tuesday was normal and they had a good exchange of views.