Cyprus president suspends peace talks

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus' president on Tuesday suspended talks on reunifying the ethnically divided island in response to Turkish plans to search for oil and gas in waters where the Cypriot government has already licensed companies to drill.

Cypriot government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the decision was the result of what he called Turkey's "provocative" and "aggressive" actions that violate Cyprus' sovereign rights and international law.

Christodoulides said Cyprus won't be deterred from continuing with its own drilling and accused Turkey of undermining regional stability.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades made the decision after consulting with party leaders who are urging the international community to speak out against Turkey's actions.

The United Nations confirmed that a meeting between Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu scheduled for Thursday has been called off. However, U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide plans to meet with the leaders separately to "discuss the way forward" in the talks. Christodoulides didn't say when peace talks might resume.

Eroglu condemned the suspension of talks, saying it showed the Greek Cypriot side wasn't "sincere" in seeking a peace deal.

Anastasiades said in a written statement that he regrets suspending talks but that he "was left with no choice" because of Eroglu's stance and Turkish actions that "torpedo efforts" for a settlement fair to all Cypriots. He repeated that both Greek and Turkish Cypriots would share in the potential gas bounty in a reunified country.

Cyprus was divided into an internationally recognized Greek speaking south and a breakaway Turkish speaking north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming to unite the island with Greece. Turkey does not recognize EU-member Cyprus and opposes its offshore energy search, claiming it disregards the rights of Turkish Cypriots to their share of potential profits.

Turkey said its research vessel would search for oil and gas off Cyprus' south coast where a consortium, made up of Italy's Eni and South Korea's Kogas, is now drilling. It also dispatched two warships to keep an eye on the consortium's rig.

Greece's Foreign Ministry said it has protested Turkey's actions. The development is a setback for U.N.-mediated negotiations that restarted in February.

Cyprus hopes gas discoveries will turn the island nation into a potential European supplier, reducing the continent's dependence on Russian gas.