Nicosia handling oil row to advantage

Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos has shown political ingenuity and efficiency in handling the controversial issue of Nicosia’s bid to launch offshore exploration for oil and gas. The Cypriot leader has managed to draw attention to Cyprus’s plans without any proof yet existing that there are actually oil and natural gas deposits off the island’s southeast worthy of commercial exploitation. Papadopoulos has already made significant political gains from his tactics. First of all, there have been initial indications of interest by French oil firm Total, Russia’s Lukoil, Britain’s BP and Shell, and five US firms whose names have not been made public by the Cypriot authorities; this means that the countries where these oil and gas giants are based are more likely to regard Cyprus in a favorable light. A second development in Cyprus’s favor is that Turkey has exposed itself to the international community once again as a country that reacts hysterically to any development regarding Cyprus, violating any international law that may oppose its own national interests. There are few countries that are not angered by the sight of Turkey sending its warships on patrol in the Aegean to intimidate Cyprus and the countries planning to join it in prospecting for oil and gas. There has also been a third positive development: The stance adopted by Papadopoulos regarding the prospect of offshore oil exploration has rallied all Greek political parties behind Nicosia. Cyprus has the right to exercise «its rights, as arising from international law and international treaties… like any other sovereign state,» Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said earlier this week. As for opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, he spoke out in support of Nicosia and condemned Ankara with uncharacteristic conviction: «I would like to notify Turkey that there is a red line in international relations – this constitutes respect for sovereign rights and international law. Eventually, Turkey must show respect for the sovereign rights of its neighbors and, of course, European Union member states.» Communist Party (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga and Left Coalition Synaspismos chief Alekos Alavanos made similar comments. It is clear that Greece’s political leadership does not share the concerns of supporters of the now-defunct Annan Plan for the reunification of Cyprus, many of whom had hastily predicted fresh troubles for Cyprus and Greece if Nicosia was to dare exercise its fundamental rights as a sovereign state and launch offshore oil and gas exploration. Threats of Cyprus’s plans causing a rift between Athens and Nicosia also missed the mark. It is not clear if Cyprus’s oil plans will turn Papadopoulos into an oil sheikh but his tactics have certainly shown him to be on top of politics in Cyprus.