The assertion that the US 6th fleet is now a part of the drilling crisis in Cyprus was initially refuted, but the denial did not ease the tensions.

The discussions surrounding the natural resources in and around Cyprus continue to make the rounds after the Italian government-affiliated ENI’s drilling efforts were effectively halted by Turkey.  The stakes are even higher, now that Exxon, who has recently cut a deal with the Southern Cyprus government, will start the initial exploration around Cyprus and it is going to coincide its activities to fall around the same time Israel conducts a military exercise jointly with the US Navy’s 6th fleet, so as not to face the same fate as ENI by being blockaded by Turkey.

Some international publications claim that two ExxonMobil ships along with the US 6th fleet have already passed through the 10th parcel which was unilaterally claimed by Southern Cyprus. However, inquiries made through ship tracking sites on the internet showed that of the two ExxonMobil vessels in question, Med Surveyor was located near the Israeli port, while Ocean Investigator was in the Aegean waters belonging to Greece. Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodulides denied the accusations that the ships were on route to the region.

Turkey argues that all exploration and drilling activities around Cyprus should be carried out jointly by Turkish and Greek Cypriots and is closely monitoring the situation. Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in a statement on Wednesday that he was aware of the “progress” of the ExxonMobil vessels and that the 6th Fleet had not arrived yet.

The US, on the other hand, had been quiet for a while on the matter, but Pentagon and Navy officials made a statement the Anadolu Agency on Thursday saying that the 6th fleet’s presence in the area had nothing to do with Exxon’s activities, and that it was there as part of a pre-planned joint military exercise.

Necdet Pamir, an energy expert, believes that at least some of the news in the media was intended to cause “provocation”:

Necdet Pamir

Energy expert Necdet Pamir

“I believe that certain Greek Cypriot media is exploiting the developments around the 6th Fleet as a carrot-stick game,” Pamir said, adding that most of the efforts to link the two developments felt forced. Pamir said that the tension created is serving the Greek Cypriot cause and that expectations for a conflict are without merit.

The Southern Cyprus administration had reached an agreement with Qatar Petroleum -a state-owned Qatar company, and ExxonMobil last year to conduct natural gas exploration around the region known as the 10th parcel. Qatar Petroleum, and Exxon -a company for which Rex Tillerson had worked for 42 years before becoming the US Secretary of State, are scheduled to finalize their exploration stages and start drilling in and around autumn of this year.

cyprusregions

Southern Cyprus parcel nos: 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 12 &13 overlap with Northern Cyprus’ A, B, C, D, E, F &G regions.

Why is Turkey Opposing?

10th parcel is not part of the region that the Northern Cyprus administration has issued licenses to explore and drill for natural gas and oil by Turkey Petroleum Joint Stock Corporation (TPAO). It also doesn’t overlap with the Republic of Turkey’s EEZ. But Turkey still stands against the Greek Cypriot’s unilateral action regarding the resources around Cyprus.

In February Turkey had sent warships to block the Italian company Eni’s drilling activities in the 3rd parcel region which overlaps with TPAO’s licensed granted by Northern Cyprus. Southern Cyprus had begun focusing on the 3rd parcel after completing the exploratory stages in 6 of the 13 parcels it had already claimed in July.  US energy company Noble Energy had declared that it found 127 billion 400 million cubic meters of natural gas reserves in the 12th parcel. However, no action is taken to drill this reserve as of yet.

Turkey sees it unfair for the Southern Cyprus to take unilateral decisions on the natural resources in and around Cyprus and states the riches of the island should be justly shared between the two nations. The Greeks, on the other hand, claim that exploration and drilling rights are a matter of sovereignty, and that they would agree to share the resources and the riches once the island is unified.

Turkey Keeps Issuing Warnings

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview that international companies should not blindly trust the Greek Cypriot government for the drilling activities. Erdogan, during his African tour last week said “we have seen in the ENI incident that not one step can be taken without the consent of the TRNC and Turkey in the region. Tomorrow we may see France try and pull this off with Total. US might do it with Exxon. But we will not sacrifice the rights of the TRNC and Turkey under international law of course.”

Turkey Should Find Natural Gas as Well

According to Turkey’s former ambassador to Qatar, Mithat Rende, what Turkey should do to change the status-quo in the region is to make use of the South Korean drilling vessel it purchased in 2017 for activating the TPAO licenses already granted and find natural gas and oil around Cyprus. “I think this is the case for the future, and I understand that the technical equipment is under final stages of completion for this purpose,” Rende said, noting that the Greek Cypriots would not be able to “ignore” the Turkish side once Turkey starts drilling.

Erdogan also said to journalists that an exploration activity in the near term is certainly possible and tht the vessel was purchased specifically for this purpose.

Criticizing Qatar

Erdogan has so far refrained from naming Qatar among the countries he warned. But this doesn’t change the fact that Exxon’s partner in the 10th parcel is Qatar Petroleum.

Necdet Pamir, the energy expert is critical of this. “I think it is ironic that we have not said anything to Qatar so far. Turkey is the only friend that Qatar has in the region. They are under an international embargo. Under these conditions, Turkey must theoretically have a strong hand against Qatar. But Qatar continues its activities without so much as a warning from Turkey,” he says. “How come our politicians are quiet on this subject? Maybe Qatar has a secret strong hand on Turkey as well.”

Mithat Rende, on the other hand, believes that Exxon and QP have a long-standing partnership, and the only reason Exxon has included QP in this deal is to share the risk. QP will not have any vessels operating in the area. All physical operations will be taken by Exxon. QP will contribute in the finance department only. But Rende still finds it interesting that two companies from two of Turkey’s allies are operating nonchalantly despite Turkey’s objections.

All Eyes are on the EU Summit

The incident involving Turkish Navy and ENI had affected the Turkey-EU talks, with EU threatening to cancel the Varna meeting to take place between Turkey and the EU on March 26. EU is set to decide to whether or not go ahead with the Varna meeting after the EU Summit that will take place on March 22-23.

Originally published in Turkish in http://www.dw.com/tr/k%C4%B1br%C4%B1sta-sular%C4%B1-buland%C4%B1ran-sondaj-krizi/a-42902412