Turkey should start drilling where Greek Cypriots discovered gas
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As the collapse of the Cyprus reunification talks showed that Greek Cypriots were not interested in a negotiated agreement, Turkey is left with no option but to act alone, a retired Turkish ambassador has said.
Turkey should buy a drillship and send it to where Greek Cypriots discovered gas, according to Mithat Rende. “Greek Cypriots only understand the importance of the issue by show of force,” he told Hürriyet Daily News.
Tell us about the energy potential around the island
There is a huge potential according to the U.S. geographical society, it is about 3.5 trillion cubic meters of potential not only around the island but in the eastern Mediterranean. It means billions of dollars of income for the countries concerned. Israel explored in the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields. Egyptians recently drilled in Zor, which is a huge field.
Greek Cypriots started drilling in 2010 together with the American Noble and the Israeli Delek company and they obtained gas, but it was not a huge discovery and it cannot be developed much; it won’t be commercially viable. That’s why they decided to resume again and ordered new licenses to new companies. Exon Mobil, together with Qatar petroleum, was awarded the lot number 10 and French total was awarded lot number 11. Total has sent a drillship to the area, and is probably expecting to acquire oil and gas.
What exactly is the Turkish side saying about the energy resources?
They initially told Greek Cypriots, “You are not the sole owners of the hydrocarbon sources, we have equal rights. Let’s get together, decide together, establish a committee and try to explore and exploit together. The Greek Cypriots ignored these approaches and concluded exclusive economic maritime zones’ delimitation agreements with Egyptians in 2003, and with the Lebanese in 2007 and finally with Israelis in 2010. When they negotiated with the Egyptians, somehow they outsmarted the Egyptians and managed to acquire an extra area. Egyptians gave more than they should: an area of 11,000 square kilometers - the size of Qatar. When we found out that the Egyptians were outsmarted, we approached them and said you should renegotiate this agreement. They were surprised and said we should look at it. Then with the deterioration of bilateral relations they ignored our advice and ratified the agreement.
What will happen now, especially after the collapse of peace talks to reunite the island?
The Greek Cypriots have demonstrated again their unwillingness to engage with the Turkish Cypriots. They think that time is on their side and they will keep negotiating to alleviate the pressure from the United Nations and other players. Their approach is not result-oriented, it is process-oriented. If you are process-oriented, you keep negotiating, you are not interested in offering anything and you expect others to offer and give concessions.
We need to act alone now. The Turkish Cypriot side should be economically empowered. Turkey needs to build the necessary infrastructure for sustainable development. And then we need to work hard to get close friends to recognize the Turkish Cypriots and we have to work hard to make the place known to the international community. We should also make it known to non-state actors, like think tanks, universities, companies and so on, to tell them that there is an independent state run by democratic means.
Does that mean Turkey should declare a permanent end to the negotiation process?
Tactically you should never say you are ending it. You should place the blame on the other side, saying that they are not interested in the process. It is in our interest to reach a settlement. But if you do not corner the Greek Cypriots, they will not show interest in negotiations.
But you can’t work toward recognition by staying on the negotiation track at the same time, governments will refrain from recognition with the fear of negatively affecting the reunification talks.
I get your point, but we need to do something, otherwise Greek Cypriots would keep negotiating forever. We need to say that Greek Cypriots are not interested in a solution and at the same time work to empower the Turkish side economically and promote it. We should introduce the northern part as a very benign entity that is run by democratic means, has a liberal economy, and is a fantastic destination for tourism and for people who would like to buy property.
We should introduce our island better to the Turks (in Turkey). They are not aware of it as they don’t travel to the island. We should encourage our people to spend more weekends there. Why don’t we, for instance, have faster sea travel from Turkish Mediterranean cities to the island? Economic empowerment will boost the Turkish Cypriots’ self-confidence. They are demoralized. On the island there are what we call governmentally organized nongovernmental organizations, they have their narrow interest and petty objectives. They spend money and time to exploit the situation and convince Turkish Cypriots that there is one choice and that it is the EU membership, which will happen only if Turks give concessions.
You are suggesting a change of policy, which requires understanding and support from international players; to what degree is it timely to make this change as Turkey is not enjoying the best of its relations even with its allies?
I take your point given the current circumstances in the region you are perhaps right to say that we should not start such a campaign. But we should do something. We need to start from somewhere. And there is also a course of action to be taken on the energy issue.
Turkish Cypriots have declared their own blocks and awarded license to the Turkish Petroleum Company (TPAO). One of the blocks overlaps with a Greek Cypriot block. TPAO has the right to start drilling.
We have two vessels for seismic search, but at one point you need to drill. Greek Cypriots only understand the importance of the issue by show of force, so in order to bring them to the negotiation table you need to do your own drilling, and the best way to do it is to go to where they found their gas: the Aphroditis.
It is in their block number 12; it overlaps with one of the blocks called G by the Turkish Cypriots.
The best way to teach them a lesson that they cannot continue to be free riders and they cannot continue to act as if they are the sole owners is to buy a drilling vessel and send it immediately to the place they found gas.
You are suggesting a crisis.
They don’t understand otherwise. I am suggesting that the Turkish side has equal rights to the exploration of the island’s resources. Turkish Cypriots have given the license to Turkey. If you have the money to buy the vessel, buy it and send it, and when you drill oil and gas, you become a player there.
Yes, but Greek Cypriots are not going to sit and watch.
What can they do, you have to send your frigates along with your drillship.
That means potential military confrontation.
But they leave Turkish Cypriots with no other option but to take action. And there will be no military conflict but a crisis to be managed. Nobody is going to send their naval assets to sink any vessel that is drilling.
Are you assuming that Greek Cypriots will just stand watching without doing anything?
No they will not; they would make a big story out of it. They would convene EU ministers, send delegations and take it to the U.N. Turkish Cypriots will say, “As a sovereign state I have accorded the license to Turkey and I have the right to explore.”
The world does not recognize Turkish Cyprus.
I know, but they at least have to recognize their inherent right that the energy resources should be fairly divided.
Again at a time when Turkey does not have the best stance in the international community, how timely is it to take action that will be perceived as an aggressive step by the world?
At this point in time the political environment, the perception of Turkey and so on is not that helpful but you have to do something. One should try to explain to the international community that we have every right to drill. Turkey also has the right to drill in its continental shelf, which is again overlapping with one of the blocks declared by Greek Cypriots.
So you are suggesting crisis diplomacy?
I wouldn’t call it crisis diplomacy, you may call it so. If you are left with no other alternative you have to take action. So far we learned a big lesson on Cyprus: By offering new concessions you reach nowhere. The Turkish side has been constructive, result-oriented and offered a lot of unnecessary concessions.
This course of action might not be endorsed by the Turkish Cypriots.
This is why we need to start a campaign and tell Turkish Cypriots that there is no future for them and the only solution is to work with Turkey.
Who is Mithat Rende?
Born in 1953 in Antakya, Mithat Rende graduated from the Faculty of Political Science of the University of Ankara. After graduation he worked in the Ministry of Commerce and then was admitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he held posts in Damascus, Rome, Brussels (NATO), Sofia, Vienna (OSCE) and London.
Rende also served as the Director of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry after completing the post-graduate program in Security and International Relations at the London-Royal College of Defence Studies.
In 2005 he was appointed as Deputy Director General of Energy Environment and Water Affairs, served as Chairman of the Trade and Transit Working Group of the Energy Charter Conference in Brussels between 2005 and 2008, and was appointed as Ambassador to Doha (Qatar) in 2007.
Rende served as Turkey’s Chief Negotiator for Climate Change between 2010-2013. He was also a member on the Turkish Nuclear Energy Commission during the same period. He appointed as the OECD Permanent Representative of Turkey in 2013, and was elected as Chairman of the Executive Committee of the OECD in 2014. He retired in 2016 and since April 2017 has been a member of the TSKB (Industrial Development Bank of Turkey) Board of Directors.