Stalled UN-led Cyprus Talks Take New Hit Amid East Med Standoff

The U.N.-led negotiations to reunite the divided island takes another hit after a recent standoff between Turkey and Greek Cyprus, with the latter saying that talks cannot resume while Ankara blocks energy exploration off its coast.

Greek Cyprus is embroiled in a standoff with Turkish warships blocking an Italian drillship from exploring for gas in the island’s politically sensitive waters.

President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, met U.N. special representative Elizabeth Spehar in Nicosia to raise the issue and discuss next steps after the peace talks collapsed in Switzerland last summer.

“The president again conveyed, that depending on developments, he is ready to take more concrete initiatives provided we are not experiencing such behavior in the republic’s exclusive economic zone,” government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides told reporters.

“You can not hold negotiations and at the same time have such movements in the EEZ,” he added.

Ms. Spehar said that Mr. Anastasiades “expressed his concerns with respect to what is happening with the hydrocarbons issue. These are concerns that we understand and which we are conveying to New York.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned foreign energy companies not to “overstep the mark” in the eastern Mediterranean after Turkish warships blocked the Italian drilling vessel.

The standoff over exploiting energy resources in the region risks further complicating stalled efforts to reunify Cyprus.

Italy’s energy giant ENI said its ship had been ordered to stop by Turkish ships last week over “military activities in the destination area” as it was on course to start exploring in block 3 of Cyprus’s EEZ.

Nicosia said Wednesday that it is counting on behind-the-scenes EU diplomacy to end the standoff with Turkey.

Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops intervened and deployed in the northern third of the island in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup.

While the Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus is internationally recognized, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Ankara.

Turkey and Greek Cyprus have long argued over the eastern Mediterranean, and Ankara has been stringent in defending the claims of Turkish Cypriots for a share of energy resources.

Greek Cyprus expects more exploratory drills, with U.S. giant ExxonMobil also planning two drills in the second half of 2018.

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