State Department clarifies position after spokeswoman Victoria Nuland messes up a day earlier, following Downer’s lead.
Washington.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis.
Cyprus’ development of offshore energy resources do not hinder reunification talks on the island, State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said on Thursday. Responding to questions, over the US stance on Cyprus’ right to explore for natural gas in its EEZ and the involvement of US company “Noble Energy”, Toner said that the US support Cyprus’ right to explore for energy. He also added that the US continues to strongly support the Cypriot-led negotiation process, conducted under UN Good Offices to reunify the island into a bizonal, bicommunal federation.
Toner also said that “having a US company involved in developing the energy resources of Cyprus is positive”. Commenting on statements made on Wednesday by Victoria Nuland, another State Department Spokesperson, Toner said that “her quotes were taken a bit out of context”.
“We continue to believe that the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement, and we don’t believe that developing offshore energy resources need hinder those reunification talks” said the State Department official.
Toner refrained from responding to a question on the threats aired by the Turkish Prime Minister against Cyprus, concerning energy exploration activities, by saying that “there’s a very clear path forward here. There’s a Cypriot-led negotiation process being conducted under the U.N. That’s the best way to resolve all of these issues”.
Asked a second time whether the US position is that Cyprus’ exploration activities do not hinder the reunification talks, Toner responded “that’s our position”.
Department of State Spokesperson Victoria Nuland on Wednesday said that Washington “is interested in the proposal for UN mediation of revenue-sharing”, as regards the exploitation of oil reserves off Cyprus’ south-eastern coast.
Nuland called for “de-escalation of the tension and rhetoric” on dispute and commitment to “UN process for Cyprus reconciliation”.
Nuland’s statement followed a statement by UN Secretary General Special Adviser Alexander Downer on Tuesday that “if the two sides (Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot) came together and asked us to play some sort of mediating role (in the controversy), the SG would have a look at that and we’d discuss it and look at what we could do”.
Downer’s statement sparked a reaction in Cyprus, where the government and the political parties condemned the statement, saying that UN role is to facilitate the peace talks and not to mediate.
Special Adviser Downer on Wednesday said that his statement was “lost in translation”.
Cyprus’ Ambassador in Washington Pavlos Anastasiades on Wednesday acted on this front, requesting clarifications on Nuland’s statements. According to diplomatic sources, Washington reiterated its position that Cyprus has a sovereign right to explore and exploit its natural resources, adding also that there would be a “correction” on Nuland’s initial statement.
During the State Department’s Regular Briefing on Wednesday, Nuland was asked about the presence of a Turkish seismic research ship close to Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone where the American company “Noble Energy” is drilling for oil reserves.
Invited specifically to say whether Washington will raise the issue to the Turkish government and how it views the tension in the region, she said that “we continue to support the UN-led mediation on Cyprus, and we discourage any rhetoric or action that could negatively affect a peaceful settlement”.
She went on to say that “there has recently been a request for the UN to engage in some sort of mediation on a revenue-sharing agreement for natural gas developed off Cyprus, and we understand that the UN is considering that request, and we would consider that it would be quite constructive if the two communities could begin to work on deescalating tensions in a way similar to that”.
Replying to another question, Nuland said that “we want to see a peaceful settlement of this issue under UN mediation. We want to see the island’s resources shared between the communities. We are interested in this proposal for UN mediation of revenue-sharing. Overall, though, we would like to see a de-escalation of rhetoric and tension so that the UN process can move forward in a good environment”.
Invited to comment on EU Enlargement Commissioner’s suggestion that the issue is brought before the International Court of Justice, she said that “we would support some sort of mediation but we need a resolution of these long-standing Cyprus issues under the UN auspices”.
Asked whether there is any difference between UN, EU and US approach on the matter, Nuland said that “if there is a dispute reconciliation resolution mechanism that could be agreed on by all concerned parties, that would ensure that the communities were able to share the resources. That would be something that we would be supportive of. But again, we’re pleased to see that people are talking about resolving this dispute peacefully, deescalating the rhetoric, and more generally, putting our energy into supporting the UN process for Cyprus reconciliation”.