Turkish Cypriots say gas find could be obstacle in talks

Turkish Cypriots say gas find could be obstacle in talks

PARIS - Reuters
Turkish Cypriots say gas find could be obstacle in talks

Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator Kudret Özersay.

Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator played down the prospect of a quick solution in peace talks with his Greek rivals, warning that the discovery of natural gas in the region was possibly more of an obstacle than of help.

“The fact that one community - one of the co-owners - is treated as if they were eligible to do whatever they want about hydrocarbons without getting the consent of the other, it cannot help the Cyprus problem, on the contrary it could be a kind of obstacle,” negotiator Kudret Özersay said.

The recent discovery of natural gas under the sea between Cyprus and Israel has added a new dimension to the divided island’s strife and also heightened tensions between the two sides.

The significance of the find has been amplified by the Ukraine crisis and its possible impact on Russian gas supplies to Europe.

Speaking to reporters in Paris, Özersay said the next phase of talks was uncertain, the first time either side has warned of possible trouble ahead since talks were restarted in February.

“We are against the idea of talks just for talks. We don’t want to be the prisoners of that. We don’t know what will be the next stage, there isn’t a roadmap that we have agreed on,” he said.

‘Not happy’

Power sharing, redrawing property boundaries and the claims of thousands of displaced persons are key issues in the conflict. Any agreement must be put to separate referendums in Cyprus’ two communities, which are both mistrustful after previous failed talks.

“Our counterpart is unwilling to accept fully the convergences that were agreed, [and] they want to change some of these convergences that were [agreed] before,” Ozersay said, declining to give specific details.

“This is something disturbing for us and we’re not happy to see this.”

He was referring to the position of the present Greek Cypriot leadership that any agreements brokered in previous peace talks between 2008 and 2012 would be reviewed. Those were partial convergences on issues such as competencies of a future Cyprus federal government and on the functioning of the economy.

Özersay said there had been broad progress on issues ranging from federal legislature to a federal judiciary and a federal police.

“So far we achieved certain progress on certain issues. Is it sufficient? No.”
He also said both sides had failed to agree on the fate of the northern Cyprus town of Varosha, once a thriving holiday resort that welcomed Hollywood stars like Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor, but which has been left deserted since 1974, occupied only by patrolling Turkish soldiers.

“We failed [on Varosha]. I don’t want to going to more details why, but we failed,” he said.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in a landmark visit to Cyprus on May 22 that the rival leaders had agreed to speed up the slow-moving talks, restarted after a two-year hiatus, to patch up one of Europe’s most intractable rifts.