When you cannot challenge your rival?s right to do something outright, you try to undermine it by presenting it in relative terms, by making it a conflict and by tying it to irrelevant diplomatic disputes. This may be an old recipe, but it is tried and tested, especially when it is applied by a third party rather than one that is directly involved in the issue.
The recipe was recently brought to mind by the damaging sideswipes leveled against Cyprus?s right to drill for offshore energy sources within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The first indirect barb came from the European Union?s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who urged both sides to exercise restraint and to work toward a positive outcome. With this statement, she tacitly transformed the arbitrary and illegal challenge against Cyprus?s right to drill into a dispute, confirming that she is overly inspired by British politics. The baton was then taken by EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, who recognized Nicosia?s right and slammed the Turkish threats, though he did add that the dispute should be solved peacefully and, if necessary, in the International Court of Justice. He too tried to turn the issue of Cyprus?s right to drill into something else entirely. After that, the UN?s special adviser Alexander Downer — well known for his pro-Turkish stance — took over, stating his willingness to mediate between the two sides immediately over the issue of the natural gas reserves. Let us note that Downer?s mission is exclusively to negotiate issues relating to the reunification of Cyprus and nothing more. The final touch was added by US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who voiced her support for Downer?s interjection. In response to a question by the Cypriot ambassador to the United States about this statement, the State Department assured that its policy remains unchanged.
What all this means is that Turkish diplomacy has exhausted all of its reserves in order to reverse positive international sentiment regarding Nicosia?s efforts to explore for natural gas. The fact that the Turks are able to muddy the waters does not mean that they will achieve their objective. And this is not just because they need to factor Israel into the geopolitical equation, but also because in this case, the interests of the USA and of Europe are in concert with those of Nicosia.