Cyprus, Aegean back on the agenda

The thorny issues of Cyprus and the Aegean are expected to return to the top of the agenda in January when Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias, Turkish-Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are to meet in Geneva for talks on lagging peace talks and when Prime Minister George Papandreou is to visit Turkey for talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Papandreou, who accepted an invitation from Erdogan to join him and Ashton at a meeting of Turkish diplomats in Erzurum province in eastern Anatolia next month, said yesterday that the Greek government was not planning any joint projects with Turkey for oil exploration in the Aegean. Papandreou was responding to a question tabled in Parliament by the leader of the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). Papandreou said that such suggestions – of a possible cooperation between Greece and Turkey in the oil exploration sector – had been bandied around for nearly 30 years, chiefly by Turkey «to create the impression that there are positive intentions on the Greek side.» Such a cooperation would be impossible, Papandreou said, chiefly due to Turkey’s persistent questioning of Greece’s sovereign rights in the Aegean. «Our current efforts are aimed at solving the problem with the delineation of the continental shelf and the current talks are not touching on the possibility of a joint exploitation [of oil deposits],» the Greek premier said. As for the Cyprus problem, Papandreou has stressed that it remains «a top priority in Greek foreign policy,» adding that without its resolution, «there can be no full normalization of Greek-Turkish relations.» Earlier this week UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned that peace talks on Cyprus could fail if the two sides do not make essential progress by early next year.