NICOSIA, Cyprus – Talks aimed at reunifying ethnically divided Cyprus are at risk of collapse because of a possible "international crisis," a United Nations envoy said Thursday, amid tensions over oil and gas exploration off the east Mediterranean island.
Espen Barth Eide said that "we may be looking forward to rather dramatic times" and urged everyone involved in peace talks to work to reduce tensions.
Eide said in two years of negotiations, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades — a Greek Cypriot — and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have taken the peace process farther than any of their predecessors over decades of failed attempts.
"To see that go to waste because of an international crisis would be very sad for all of us," he told reporters after a meeting with Anastasiades.
Earlier this week, Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said Turkey's "threats" to prevent oil and gas exploration off Cyprus could be designed to scuttle peace talks, while Anastasiades criticized the U.N. envoy of bias.
On Thursday, Anastasiades said Cyprus' hydrocarbons search "won't be affected by whichever threats."
"Nothing is changing the government's plans, which is exercising its sovereign rights inside its Exclusive Economic Zone," Anastasiades told reporters. Moving forward with drilling would be best for Greek and Turkish Cypriots to get the soonest benefit from any oil and gas discoveries, he said.
Cyprus was split into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkey recognizes the Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and keeps more than 35,000 troops in the north.
Turkey opposes what it calls a unilateral Greek Cypriot search for hydrocarbons, saying it ignores the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the island's mineral wealth. The Turkish Foreign Ministry warned in March that it would "take all necessary measures to protect its interests" in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as those of the Turkish Cypriots.
A Turkish ship is currently conducting seismic surveys off Cyprus' eastern coast.
French energy company Total is scheduled to drill an exploratory well off Cyprus' southern coast in mid-July.
The Cyprus government has dispatched a letter to the U.N. Chief detailing how Turkey's actions are undermining peace talks, said Christodoulides.