Athens, Nicosia on track

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and visiting Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos yesterday agreed that Cyprus was free to pursue offshore oil and gas exploration without the consent of any other state. The two leaders also crticized Turkey for its stance opposite both their countries and its failure to facilitate a Cyprus solution. Karamanlis defended Cyprus’s right to exercise its rights «like any other sovereign state.» «I don’t think it’s necessary to have (Greece’s) consent,» Papadopoulos said. «Relations are so good that we don’t need such an agreement,» he added. The Cypriot leader also accused Ankara of making «threats and provocations» by warning Nicosia not to go ahead with the project. The two leaders also discussed the possible launch of exploratory peace talks for Cyprus and a European Union debate on launching direct trade with the Turkish-occupied north of the island. Sources told Kathimerini that only 12 minutes of yesterday’s two-hour meeting were devoted to Nicosia’s exploration plans. During this time, Cypriot Foreign Minister Giorgos Lillikas apologized to Karamanlis for Nicosia’s delay in briefing Athens about the signing of an exploration deal between Cyprus and Lebanon. Papadopoulos said Athens would be briefed about developments in the exploration project but not unnecessarily involved. «We do not want to burden Greece with our concerns,» he said. Karamanlis took the opportunity to remind Turkey of its obligations as an EU candidate state opposite member state Cyprus. «Our policy is to normalize relations. But Turkey is being judged by its behavior,» Karamanlis said. The Greek PM also accused Ankara of «delaying tactics» for failing to act upon a UN-mediated decision last July to launch low-level exploratory talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. «We cannot speak of progress when there is none,» he said. Karamanlis said he supported the granting of economic support to the Turkish Cypriots but not in a way that created motives for the island’s continued division. Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat is to visit Brussels next Tuesday for talks with EU officials, sources said.