Thursday 26 June 2014

Interview with Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides (Published in Turkish in Havadis Newspaper on 16 June 2014)


Solution in one year

Mr. Kasoulides, I would first like to ask you what you think about the negotiations process. There are many negative comments regarding the process in the north. It is even being said that the talks are on the brinks of collapsing. What is going on?
Kasoulides: I don’t share that they are collapsing. I consider that the talks have entered well into the second phase. During this phase, both sides will try to narrow the differences that separate the two sides on each and every aspect. By narrowing my own assessment is that positions that each side knows that will never be accepted, should be eliminated and we leave in the middle a variety of choices that can be examined in the give and take phase, which will be the third and final phase. And I think that the timetable is going along - as it has been at least envisaged from our side -and it is going to take I would say a year at the latest where hopefully all will be completed.

I would like to clarify this. A year includes final phase – the give and take phase also?
Kasoulides: Yes everything. I think that if all goes well with political will, with intervention of other stakeholders like Turkey - as Turkey did during the joint declaration and has not done it yet after - the involvement of the permanent members of the security council which may wish to assist, and the direct talks between the negotiators in Ankara and Athens, they will enhance the speed of the negotiations. It is absolutely necessary that results are seen to be produced by the end of the summer so that in September we have another good product to present to the people. The public opinion needs to see progress. And it is in our political interest on our side that this progress is indeed produced in order to keep the momentum and keep the optimism of the public opinion as it has been created after the joint declaration. We don’t want this optimism to be succeeded with frustration, which serves the purposes of those who don’t wish a solution.

You said by September we would like to have some concrete results. Would that coincide with the end of the second phase and the beginning of the third phase?
Kasoulides: Yes I hope so. Of course, in order to be able to begin the give and take phase, we need to know exactly where both sides stand on all the issues must be on the table. All the positions must be on the table.

That is one of my questions. Greek Cypriot side wants positions on all issues to be presented, whereas the Turkish Cypriot side is saying that we cannot present positions on territory for example, unless we know that we are very close to an agreement or unless we have a timetable because it is going to have economic and psychological effects. How are we going to overcome this difference?
Kasoulides: I understand the validity of these arguments. But each side has to understand that similar concerns perhaps on other issues do exist at the same time for the other side. If Mr. Özersay wants so badly as he is claiming sort of a roadmap, that means that he is prepared for a settlement. Therefore, he is prepared to have the courage to go to the people and say ‘look this is the map and therefore, with this map unfortunately people are going to be relocated to other areas.’

He says if I have the timetable I am prepared to do this. But the Greek Cypriot side does not want to prepare a timetable.
Kasoulides: Lets imagine that he has a timetable tomorrow. Why is he prepared to do it. What about the economic consequences you mentioned?

Because then the people will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and will be able to tolerate certain things.
Kasoulides: There is only one way to see the light at the end of the tunnel and that is by producing progress. Progress will determine the timetable. Let’s say that we have fixed September in a roadmap rigidly as the end of the second phase. I told you September without commitments and rigidity, that I predict that this will be. But Mr. Özersay wants it to be put on the table and be considered rigidly. And lets say that we are producing progress but we have not completed that progress by then – then what? We pack it up and go?

No. Why would you? Isn’t it always possible to make small adjustments on the roadmap?
Kasoulides: It is futile. What is the utility of having this roadmap?

But why not?
Kasoulides: Because the progress will determine this timetable. Instead of tying our hands… We may finish earlier than this timetable says.

Sure. But this is not going to be something that is very rigid and that will tie your hands. It is just a plan.
Kasoulides: But why doesn’t Mr. Özersay speak with his interlocutor Mr. Mavroyiannis? Why don’t they, instead of putting rigid timetables, discuss about how they see the timetable in a non-rigid friendly way just like I am doing with you now?

I think in the Turkish Cypriots want to know that there is commitment and a plan that will lead us to a referendum.
Kasoulides: Yes and in the same way the people on this side want to see this type of commitment and this political will on issues that interest them mostly. Otherwise, economic repercussions and other issues may also influence the situation here. Let me explain how I see my philosophy regarding this necessity for resolving the problem: What will the Greek Cypriots give for a solution? Power-sharing with Turkish Cypriots, jointly entering in the international legality system, jointly joining the EU – which I remind you the Greek Cypriot side has worked so hard to achieve while at the time being threatened by Turkey with war. Now, what do the Greek Cypriots expect from the other side as a giving: territory mostly, and property. So for exactly the same reasons that the Turkish Cypriots would like to see commitment about the end of the tunnel in order to open their cards, it is the same for Greek Cypriots. The only difference is that, all over these years that we have been negotiating, the Greek Cypriot side was always opening its cards regarding the power sharing, regarding joining the EU together, regarding jointly having international legality - which are all a giving from our side. But we have never seen a single map from the Turkish Cypriot side. We saw the Annan Plan map, we saw the Gobi map, we saw the Ghali map, but we have never seen the Turkish Cypriot position on this issue. I am not criticising. I am just saying that it would be wise and prudent that each side, when it expresses a position that it wants so much, it must not only see matters from its own side of the coin. It must see at the same time how the other side from the other side of the coin is feeling.

And how do we overcome this?
Kasoulides: My suggestion is that we leave formalities and procedural questions of this nature aside and liberate ourselves from this constraints and go to the negotiating table much more free to concentrate on the substance. And let us also be less suspicious to each other. Because if we are suspicious while negotiating it means that we will also be suspicious while living together. This is not a good thing. 

I would also like to touch on federal executive. Turkish Cypriot sources tell Havadis that they do not have a rejectionist approach towards cross-voting. Greek Cypriot sources on the other hand, say they are open to discussing rotating presidency. Then, what is the problem?
Kasoulides: The situation right now is like this: The Turkish Cypriot side wants rotating presidency and they want the Greek Cypriot community to elect the Greek Cypriot head of state, and the Turkish Cypriot community to elect the head of state when the turn of a Turkish Cypriot comes. So if they are 20 per cent,  10% plus 1 will decide who will be the head of state. That is not democratic. And that is not fair. On the other hand, the Greek Cypriot side wants the head of state, who has to be a Greek Cypriot, to be elected through common electoral roster. And that is our initial position.
I personally believe that neither side is going to get either that extreme or the other. That is why I say eliminate the things that we know we are not going to get. These two positions have to be eliminated and then bring the other alternatives to choose from at the give and take side of negotiations.

Is the Famagusta package dead?
Kasoulides: If there is good will the issue of this package of confidence building measures can be resolved within weeks. It has been called the Famagusta package and this may be our mistake. Because this title makes it sound like the package only focuses on the fenced area of Famagusta. But it has other issues. It is a very fair package. I remember when I was at the European Parliament after 2004, the whole struggle of the Turkish Cypriot side was to obtain the right to trade directly with the rest of the world. We are offering this in the package. Famagusta doesn’t go on its own. It comes with the issue of direct trade and certainly because the direct trade will automatically resolve the issue of Ankara protocol, it goes along with the chapters of Turkeys accession to the EU. So it’s a whole package. By only speaking about Famagusta we don’t see the great thing that the Turkish Cypriots will achieve in a legal way.

US Vice President Joe Biden tried to get an agreement as a first step of this package during his visit. But this failed. What was the problem?
Kasoulides: We took it very badly. I am a person of very good will. I have always been known on this side to be advocating in favour of the solution. I must tell you that I was greatly disappointed with the position taken by the Turkish Cypriot side. The Turkish Cypriot side insisted that the experts that will enter the fenced area of Famagusta would be international experts and Turkish Cypriot experts, explicitly excluding Greek Cypriots. They wanted this to be included into the agreement that Mr. Biden would have read. Biden was also going to announce that experts will also go to the Famagusta port and will prepare a plan for the upgrading of the capacity of the port. And we were prepared to accept this. We have never asked for Greek Cypriot experts. We were talking about only international experts. I found this if we were to accept this as very humiliating.

Was that the whole problem?
Kasoulides: In the fenced area, yes. And about the port, they wanted to say that the upgrading of the port was in order for the use of ships for commerce for trade and for cruise ships. Why did then need this to be said? When you upgrade a port you upgrade it for what?

Was Ercan discussed within the framework of this package?
Kasoulides: No, they never said they want to bring it to the table. Ercan may come up if the other side wants to put it on the table. We are open to discussing it.

I think there is fear on the Turkish Cypriot side that an interim agreement may be reached and then nobody will have interest in comprehensive solution?
Kasoulides: Both sides will get a lot of things from this package. If it was only our side to get these good things, then I could say ‘I am afraid that they will lose their motivation for a settlement.’  I can understand that. But if both sides are going to get the benefits, in my view it will open the appetite for the solution. And let me tell you something additional that everybody has to have in mind on both sides there are people who don’t want a solution. And when it comes to a referendum this time it has to be approved by both sides and therefore this kind of confidence building measures will fill in the lack of trust we have been talking about earlier on, which will facilitate the people to decide by approval and yes much more easily.

Do you have hope that we will be able to overcome all these obstacles and move forward?
Kasoulides: Well I have seen so many obstacles over so many years. Let your memory go back to the period of three months or so between October and 11 February when we were preparing for the joint declaration. How many bumpings, how many obstacles were produced on the way? Finally we made it. I think that it is not strange that we see these kinds of obstacles developing at the moment. We will make it again. I want to declare very clearly to my Turkish Cypriot readers of Havadis that we have no Plan B. We only have one plan. Plan A: To resolve the problem once and for all. We don’t have any other plan.

What if we cannot do it this time either?
Kasoulides: We have to do it.

What will happen if we cannot?
Kasoulides: We have to do it.

I hope you are right. I would also like to touch on the energy issue. You said in a recent interview that you believe that natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean may become what coal and steel was at the end of the Second World War for Europe. And you mentioned Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. Did you leave Turkey out deliberately?
Kasoulides: I don’t exclude anybody. Turkey is also a part of this, and Greece and Palestine.

Is a solution necessary for energy cooperation with Turkey?
Kasoulides: Yes. It is unavoidable isn’t it? And why not have a settlement now that we have this prospect in front of us. That is another thing to push us towards resolving the problem. The natural gas that belongs in the EEZ of Cyprus belongs to all Cypriots. All Cypriots. And we mean it. By the end of the decade when we are going to have the money coming in, this money belongs to all Cypriots. If we have a settlement by then, the Turkish Cypriots are going to get their own fair share. If we don’t have a settlement by then which is going to be very unfortunate when we get a settlement we will settle our accounts because we will consider that from the very beginning that their share is their share. But I am saying by the end of the decade. Come on.

But how many decades has it been Mister Minister.
Kasoulides: Yes but this time I consider that we have no excuse to fail.

How are your relations with Russia? Have they been affected by the sanctions? Cyprus seems to be moving closer to the US?
Kasoulides: Becoming  a friend or a strategic partner with somebody doesn’t mean that we become an enemy or against somebody else.

But what if the two are enemies?
Kasoulides: Let them sort out their differences. We are not. Let me say that in modern foreign policy relations are not a zero sum. Russia knows where we stand. We are members of the EU and they respect this therefore they know exactly that by belonging to the EU, we belong to the western group of families. But this doesn’t stop us from having good relations with Russia on many fields. And there is no reason to stop these good relations because at the same time we are working very closely with others.

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