NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus won’t put its exploratory gas drilling plans on hold despite Turkey’s attempt to force the east Mediterranean island nation to halt its activities by conducting its own gas search in Cypriot waters, the president of Cyprus said Sunday.
President Nicos Anastasiades said pausing drilling in the face of Turkish pressure would be tantamount to Cyprus abrogating its sovereign rights.
Anastasiades said he was ready to engage with Turkey on charting a course to a deal that would reunify Cyprus, which has been divided into ethnically Greek and Turkish areas since the 1970s.
But that won’t happen if Turkey sets preconditions such as the suspension of offshore drilling for such peace talks to take place, he said.
"Disputing sovereign rights or preconditions such as 'I'm violating international law and in return, you must give up your sovereign rights so that we can talk'...that doesn't demonstrate either good will or good faith," said Anastasiades, who is the president of Cyprus' internationally recognized government.
Only Turkey recognizes a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the island’s northern third. Cyprus was was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup aiming at union with Greece.
“Just because Turkey doesn’t recognize us as a state we should renounce our statehood so that there’s dialogue,” Anastasiades said.
Turkish warship-escorted vessels are drilling in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights, including in areas where it has licensed energy companies Eni of Italy and France's Total to carry out exploratory drilling.
Turkey says it's acting to protect its rights in interests and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the area's energy reserves. Turkey's foreign ministry says the country won't stop its hydrocarbon search off Cyprus until either all drilling ceases or Turkish Cypriots jointly manage such activity.
Last week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Francis Fannon urged against “provocative actions” that undermine regional stability.
He also voiced Washington’s support for Cyprus’ right to develop its energy resources and for proceeds to be shared between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots under a peace accord.