Cypriot factions commit to efforts towards ending 45-year-long discord

Amid tensions over gas drilling, Greek and Turkish sides agree to September UN talks

Deputy special adviser to the UN secretary general on Cyprus Elizabeth Spehar with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and  Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades. Photograph: Cypriot Press Office

Deputy special adviser to the UN secretary general on Cyprus Elizabeth Spehar with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades. Photograph: Cypriot Press Office

 

Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders agreed on Friday to intensify efforts to reunify the divided island and to finalise steps that would secure a settlement. Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci met informally for three hours at the home of UN envoy Elizabeth Spehar.

Speaking before the meeting, Mr Anastasiades said their aim was to counter tensions, end deadlock and reject proposals for a solution outside the agreed framework of a bizonal, bicommunal federation. The two men are seeking a settlement to end the 45 years of division since Turkey occupied the north following a failed coup against the government mounted by the Athens military junta.

A joint communique said they planned to hold discussions with UN secretary general António Guterres in September “in order to plan the way forward”. They welcomed the implementation of electricity and mobile phone connections that will “facilitate greater interaction between the two communities”.

Coastal shelf

Tensions have spiked over natural gas exploitation since two Turkish ships began drilling and a third mounted exploration in Cyprus’s internationally recognised coastal shelf. Ankara has dismissed EU economic and diplomatic sanctions, which were imposed due to Turkey’s violation of international law. It is set to deploy a second survey ship.

On Thursday, during a visit to north Cyprus, Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar warned that no one should “test our strength, our force, as the price will be heavy. We will keep on saying it. We will not allow Turkey’s or the Turkish Cypriots’ rights to be violated.”

Ankara refuses to recognise Cyprus’s exclusive control of hydrocarbons in its coastal waters, insists that Turkey’s continental shelf overlaps the area defined by Cyprus, and claims Turkish Cypriots have the right to manage hydrocarbon deposits and share revenues.

Exploration rights

Despite Turkish actions, the Cypriot government has recently granted or extended licences for exploratory drilling to France’s Total and Italy’s ENI. US ExxonMobil and Noble Energy, Qatar Petroleum and Israel’s Delek Group also have exploration rights in Cypriot waters. These deals exert powerful multinational counter-pressure on Turkey to cease operations.

The Cypriot government has said a proposal by Mr Akinci for the establishment of a joint committee to administer hydrocarbon exploitation must await a settlement. He had argued that agreement on the issue could progress negotiations but also suggested a moratorium on exploration and drilling until there was a settlement.

A second issue which has generated tension is a plan by the Turkish-Cypriot authorities to take control of and redevelop Varosha, the abandoned Greek Cypriot suburb of the medieval port city of Famagusta. Reopening Varosha to the return of former residents has been, for Greek Cypriots, a key part of any reunification agreement.