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NICOSIA, Cyprus – Drilling off ethnically divided Cyprus in search of oil and gas will go ahead as scheduled following the collapse of reunification talks despite strong objections voiced by Turkey, the island's president said Monday.
President Nicos Anastasiades also said the island nation's Greek side is ready to re-engage with Turkish Cypriots on negotiating a peace deal if rights of military intervention aren't ceded to Turkey and Ankara withdraws all the troops it keeps in the breakaway north.
Anastasiades, a Greek Cypriot, told a nationally televised news conference that there will be no deviation from plans to drill off Cyprus' southern coast.
French energy producer Total is scheduled to begin drilling this month in an area off Cyprus near a huge field in Egyptian waters that's estimated to hold 30 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday leveled criticism against energy companies for participating in "the irresponsible steps" being taken by the Greek Cypriots.
"Our expectation from all sides who are party to developments in Cyprus is to stay away from steps that can lead to new tensions in the region," Erdogan told a World Petroleum Congress meeting in Istanbul.
Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state and charges that drilling efforts by the island's internationally recognized government in the Greek Cypriot south infringes on the rights of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots to its potential mineral wealth.
Anastasiades repeated that Cyprus has international law on its side and would defend the government's sovereign right to drill off its shores at the European Union and other world bodies.
He said he's hopeful Turkey doesn't create a "provocation" that would put at risk the interests of oil and gas companies, the Cypriot people or Turkey itself because such an action "won't be without consequences."
Meanwhile, Anastasiades repeated that Turkey's insistence on keeping military intervention rights and troops in place as part of an accord scuttled 10 days of high-level, United Nations sponsored talks in Switzerland last week.
The talks in which U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres twice stepped in to help break a stalemate had been billed as the best chance to end the Cyprus' decades-long divide by reunifying it as a federation.
Erdogan said he regretted the talks' collapse, which he blamed on the "negative stance" of Greek Cypriots.
Anastasiades said his goal was to create a truly independent and sovereign state free from "the dependence of third countries."
Turkey has kept more than 35,000 troops on Cyprus since invading in 1974 following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Although Cyprus is an EU member, only the south enjoys full benefits.
"The objective is to cut the umbilical cord" with Turkey, Anastasiades said. "That's why at some point Turkish Cypriots have to decide either they'll be part of Turkey, or they'll be part of the Cypriot state as it will evolve."
Greek Cypriots want all Turkish troops gone because they see them as a threat and an extension of Turkey's influence over Cyprus. The minority Turkish Cypriots want Turkish troops and intervention rights to stay in place to guarantee their security.