Gas search, economy, peace talks on Cyprus president's plate

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades waves to supporters who gathered at a stadium to attend his inauguration ceremony after being re-elected to a second five-year term in Nicosia, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018. Anastasiades defeated challenger Stravros Malas, who was supported by the communist-rooted AKEL party, by a wide margin. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

A hydrocarbons search, reunification talks and revving up the economy on re-elected president's priority list

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Nicos Anastasiades is on the home stretch of his long political career. On Sunday, the 71-year-old Greek Cypriot secured his second five-year term as president of the part of Cyprus that is internationally recognized.

He has said this will be his final term in office. His priorities — revving up the economy, overseeing an offshore gas search that could transform the east Mediterranean region's politics and restart reunification talks with breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

Here are some of the key issues in his in-tray:

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GAS WORKS

An ongoing search for oil and gas off the island's southern coast will figure prominently on the president's to-do list.

Italian energy company ENI is currently drilling an exploratory well whose prospects have been described as "very encouraging" by Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis. U.S. company Noble has already discovered a deposit off the island estimated to contain over 4 trillion cubic feet of gas.

While, the hydrocarbon search could mean energy independence for the tiny, resources-poor island nation, it also has the potential to transform the political calculus in this tumultuous region. Gas is undergirding alliances Cyprus has forged with Egypt and Israel which have found sizeable gas reserves inside their waters.

Cyprus and its two neighbors are looking at how to get the gas to market, including Europe.

But the search isn't without its problems. Turkey strongly objects to the gas search, insisting that it's flouting the rights of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the island's mineral wealth. Ankara also claims part of the area which the Cypriot government has opened for exploration licensing. The Cyprus government says it's exercising its sovereign rights and any gas finds will be equitably shared with all Cypriots.

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GEARING UP ECONOMY

The Cypriot economy has rebounded well after a 2013 financial crisis that nearly left the country bankrupt. The crisis had forced Anastasiades — fresh from his first presidential election victory — to accept a multibillion-euro rescue deal from creditors that involve the seizure of deposits over 100,000 euros ($124,000) in the country's two largest banks.

After massive cuts to wasteful spending, the economy is growing at a stellar rate of 4 percent. But it still has its problems including high unemployment and a banking system weighed down by a huge number of bad loans.

Anastasiades offered a huge clue as to how he plans to tackle joblessness on the night of his re-election, telling supporters that he'll bolster private enterprise and entrepreneurship to create more jobs. He's set to look across the political spectrum for help.

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PEACE TALKS REDUX

A quick resumption of peace talks with breakaway Turkish Cypriots is still in question after last July's negotiations collapse.

Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Sapped momentum has to be injected back into the peace process. Last week's revelation that the Turkish Cypriots have withdrawn a key document from the process is another setback. The document was a map Turkish Cypriots had submitted that outlined how much territory they'd be willing to cede to Greek Cypriots as part of an envisioned two-zone federation. Greek Cypriots had submitted a map of their own. Anastasiades had hailed the submission of maps as a first in the decades-long history of the talks, indicative of just how much process had been achieved.

Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the president's first move will be to soon call party leaders to decide the next steps. U.N. Chief Antonio Guterres has said he's ready to mediate fresh talks again, but that it's up to both leaders to get the ball rolling. Anastasiades had said he'd sound out Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci who has said that if talks are to resume, the way they're conducted has to change.

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