Andrew RETTMAN EUOBSERVER
Turkey's ambassador to the EU has said member states should urge Cyprus to "see reason" in order to stop a dispute over gas exploration from getting worse.
"Europe, which has a stake in this, should say to the Greek Cypriot authorities that it is inadvisable to raise the stakes, because they are raising the stakes. We are not the ones who sarted exploration in disputed waters ... the EU can tell the Greek Cypriots they have to be reasonable," Selim Kuneralp told EUobserver in an interview on Monday (12 September).
"These are resoures that belong to both communities on the island ... and until such time as this has happened [an agreement on how to share them] we feel it is highly inappropriate for exploration to begin."
Cyprus has hired US company Noble to start drilling later this month at a 6,000-square-kilometre field called Block 12, situated under the Mediterranean Sea to the south of the island.
Cyprus has been split in two since 1974 with the Turkish military still present on the island in support of the largely unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Asked by EUobserver if Turkey would use warships to stop Noble from going ahead if necessary, Kuneralp said: "I hope it will not come to that and the Greek Cypriots will see reason ... I didn't mention warships. I think it's better to hope that reason will prevail."
He made clear that the bad feeling between Ankara and Nicosia will see EU-Turkey relations put on hold when Cyprus takes over the rotating EU presidency in late 2012, however.
With each presidency currently holding around 20 sectoral meetings with EU countries and EU candidate countries, such as Turkey, on its home territory during its six-month tenure, Kuneralp said Turkey will not come: "We would definitely not attend any such meetings that fall in the future period of the Greek Cypriot presidency, so relations would in effect be frozen."
For its part, Cyprus has in recent months lobbied its EU friends to make sure the gas operation goes ahead.
German EU energy commissioner Gunther Oetteinger in a statement earlier this month said: "The EU urges Turkey to refrain from any kind of threat, sources of friction or action which could negatively affect good neighborly relations". Greek foreign minister Stavros Lambrinidis in August said it is Cyprus' "sovereign right" to go ahead.
Meanwhile, Turkey is less shy about using naval assets to settle disputes elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turning to the recent row with Israel over its refusal to apologise for killing nine Turkish citizens on board a Gaza-bound flotilla last year, Kuneralp said the Turkish navy will probably help in any future efforts to break Israel's maritime blockade on the strip.
"As far as I know, there are no plans to send another flotilla. But if the blockade on Gaza is maintained there will be talk of another flotilla [before long]," he told this website. "We would not allow a repetition of last year's events and there would be some sort of military escort, but we're not there yet."
He added that the Turkish foreign minister or prime minister will in early October speak out on Gaza at the UN General Assembly in New York, with NGOs unlikely to start planning new missions until they see how other UN members respond.
Early reactions to Turkey's hawkish Gaza policy from the NGOs which planned the ill-fated 2010 operation indicate that Ankara might have misjudged the situation.
Speaking to EUobserver on Monday, Izzet Sahin, a spokesman for the Turkey-based IHH, the main group behind the 2010 mission, said Turkish warships might in future escort Turkish government aid vessels but that his NGO wants to keep clear lines of division between charity work and regional politics.
"As an NGO, we did not ask for this kind of escort or help last time because we are independent. As an NGO we co-operate with other NGOs but not states. States have their own agendas," he said.