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12° Nicosia,
23 May, 2024
 
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T/C's want incentives from G/C's to return to talks

''Turkish Cypriots want to have the right to talk about a separate state, which gives them sovereign equality, even if they won't go all the way with that position.''

Marina Economides

Marina Economides

In a recent interview with Kathimerini, the British High Commissioner of Cyprus, Irfan Siddiq, sheds light on the current status of the Cyprus peace talks. With a U.N. special envoy in place, tasked with finding common ground to reignite the negotiations, Siddiq emphasizes the absence of a concrete document outlining the steps for both sides. Addressing the flexibility in the Turkish side's positions, he notes their inclination towards discussing a separate state for sovereign equality. Siddiq reveals their belief that this stance will fortify their position at the negotiating table. Furthermore, he discloses insights into the new special envoy's timelines and underscores the UK's role in addressing the Cyprus problem.

For the last six years, there has been a stalemate on the Cyprus issue. What conclusion has been drawn from the arrival of the new UN Special Envoy? Is it safe to talk about momentum in Cyprus now?

It is a fact that since Crans Montana onwards, there has been no progress on the Cyprus issue. We attempted to stir things up in 2021 with the conference in Geneva; however, there was no progress. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the invasion and 60 years since the establishment of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus. For this reason, I understand that citizens might view any moves with more reservation, as many efforts have been made over the years without resolution. It is somewhat understandable to be cautious, but I have a relative optimism. This is because I have seen a willingness from the Greek Cypriot side to resume talks. Since his election, Nicos Christodoulides had initially focused on the appointment of the European envoy, and now we have witnessed the appointment of the United Nations special envoy.

The T/Cs do not want to enter a process without an end, to continue isolated, without recognition and without any connection with the rest of the world. That is why they want some incentives...

Has the idea of appointing a European envoy failed?

The goal of the European envoy was not to lead the process, as this falls under the United Nations' jurisdiction. The objective was to achieve a more active role for the EU. In this way, it would attract Turkey back to the process by providing incentives. Unfortunately, this has not been successful.

Have we lost valuable time in this attempt to discuss a European envoy?

Essentially, no, because during the same period when Nicos Christodoulides submitted the proposal, everyone was awaiting the outcome of the Turkish elections. And after the elections in Turkey, we had developments in Pyla. The bottom line is the resumption of talks under the auspices of the United Nations. Now, the significant challenge with the appointment of the new United Nations envoy is to determine to what extent common ground can be found between the two sides, as their positions are in significant divergence. The Greek Cypriot side remains committed to a Bizonal Bicommunal Federation solution with political equality, as described in the United Nations resolutions. The Turkish Cypriot leadership seems not to share this position at the moment. The challenge, therefore, is to bring the two sides in the same direction. The United Kingdom supports the Bizonal Bicommunal Federation with political equality, as outlined in the Security Council resolutions, and we will work in that direction. However, every time we articulate this position, the Turkish Cypriot side reacts. Personally, I believe there is flexibility in the positions expressed by the Turkish side.

Flexibility such that there can be a return to the negotiating table and discussions within the framework of a bizonal bicommunal federation? Is there a way to make this possible?

It will be difficult, but it can be done in my opinion. This is precisely the competence of the special envoy. Obviously, it is challenging due to the failed efforts all these years and the lack of trust that has been created. On the Turkish Cypriot side, even individuals who are in favor of reunification and a solution remain cautious about the stance the Greek Cypriot leadership will ultimately take. This stems from their experience in 2004 when the Turkish Cypriot side supported the Annan Plan, and the Greek Cypriot side rejected it. However, beyond the Annan Plan, their interpretation of the conference in Crans Montana is that the Greek Cypriot side did not seize the momentum for a solution. Since Crans Montana, the Turkish Cypriots have shifted their position and speak about sovereign equality. The interesting part, however, is when talking to Turkish Cypriots and colleagues in Ankara engaging with the Turkish side; they reveal that sovereign equality for them does not necessarily mean two states. What they assert is that they no longer believe there will be a different outcome if they go to talks again. For this very reason, they need assurances that things will end differently this time at the negotiating table.

Meaning?

They want to have the right to talk about a separate state, which gives them sovereign equality, even if they will not go all the way with this position. They believe this will strengthen their position at the negotiating table. Turkish Cypriots feel that the Greek Cypriot side is not sincere regarding its willingness for talks, and for this reason, they want to keep the issue of sovereign equality as an assurance. However, this approach causes concern on the Greek Cypriot side that this assurance might be used in the event of failed negotiations to declare a separate state. For this very reason, it is not acceptable. Turkish Cypriots do not want to enter a never-ending process, to continue isolated without recognition and without any connection to the rest of the world. For this reason, they want incentives for the resumption of talks that will make them feel secure and strengthen their belief that something different can come out of the process this time. Their need is not unjustified. However, the question is how someone can provide these assurances to the Turkish Cypriots without, at the same time, causing concerns on the Greek Cypriot side that this will automatically lead to a two-state solution. This is the challenge for the new envoy.

Are we to assume that what is said about the timetable for the new special envoy is true?

What I understand is that the Turkish Cypriot leadership, due to the lack of trust in the process, does not want to start another endless cycle of negotiations. That is why they set a six-month action timeline. This is certainly something the Greek Cypriot side does not want. My conclusion is that within the six months, progress in the entire process will be assessed. If not, there will likely be pressure to declare an impasse. However, if there is progress, I estimate that there will be a need for more time. But it is too early to make a decision now.

Will the UK take any initiatives this time?

It is a question I often encounter, presumably because there is a sense that we always have some ideas we want to impose on others. At the moment, a United Nations special envoy has been appointed, and her role is to find common ground to restart the talks. We do not have any specific document to present on what the two sides should do. Essentially, this role belongs to the special envoy, not us.

Have you had any discussions on the issue with Nikos Christodoulides? Because you had presented some ideas in the past.

This happened when there was no envoy. In the absence of progress and given that the United Kingdom was keen on a solution, it came up with some proposals for restarting the talks, but this was done when no one had a mandate. It is the exclusive responsibility of the United Nations envoy to proceed with proposals.

Given the recorded reservations, and the gap between the positions of the two sides, do you think that sovereign equality may ultimately be a way forward for a solution to the Cyprus problem?

We are not going to impose any idea; what I presented was the position of the Turkish Cypriot leadership. The challenge lies with the envoy and the Greek Cypriot leadership, which is more willing to see results in the talks and address the other side.

How do you comment on the Confidence-Building Measures announced by the President?

Fourteen measures have been announced, which, as I understand, are not in the context of confidence-building measures but rather aim to create a more positive environment.

Does it constitute a step forward?

It is positive because it proposes solutions to some issues faced by citizens on the island and will improve the situation. However, it is most likely not meeting the demands of the Turkish Cypriot leadership. For this reason, the question is what the Greek Cypriot side will do to convince the Turkish Cypriot leadership that it is in their interest to return to the negotiation table and discuss the agreed framework for a solution.

So, it depends on the Greek Cypriot side?

I know that some citizens dislike what I am saying, questioning why the Greek Cypriots should take the initiative to approach the Turkish Cypriots while they occupy their territories and violate their rights. I understand and respect this position; however, nothing will progress with this approach. The choice is either to insist on the initial position, resulting in no progress, or to recognize the political reality that the other side is not particularly willing to restart the talks in the agreed framework. In the latter case, steps need to be taken to improve the atmosphere, attract the Turkish Cypriots, and simultaneously not create insecurity for the Greek Cypriots. More can be done by the Greek Cypriot leadership because they are the ones seeking the resumption of talks. The Turkish Cypriot leadership is not seeking a resumption of talks in the framework of the bizonal bicommunal federation. Therefore, if the goal is to restart talks, something must be done to achieve it.

The two texts in the Pyla agreement and the lack of understanding

What is your assessment of the two texts in the Pyla agreement, and is the agreement a failure?

It is not fair to say that it has failed. The developments in August could have led to destabilization. The fact that there was no escalation and that the United Nations is working with both sides to reach an agreement that satisfies both parties is certainly positive. The implementation of the agreements is a challenge. I believe it is partly due to a lack of understanding of the provisions of the agreements—because it involves two texts—that created this situation. It is the responsibility of the United Nations to be honest so that both sides understand what is provided in the other agreement. When there is a common understanding, it can be implemented jointly.

Can the experience of Pyla influence future perceptions of the Cyprus solution?

I don't think so. The positive aspect is that both sides could find a solution through dialogue, de-escalating the situation. You know, the attack on United Nations peacekeepers is a significant issue and could reignite the crisis. Therefore, if the agreements are explained correctly, there is understanding and flexibility; a conducive environment will be created, leading to progress in similar issues.

The movements at the bases were made in full coordination with Nicosia

The use of British bases for the attack against the Houthis raised concerns in a part of Cypriot society that Cyprus might be attacked by Yemen.

The Houthi attacks on commercial ships passing through the Red Sea posed a global threat to the economy and security. They claimed to target only Israeli ships due to the crisis in Gaza, but this is untrue. They have attacked many ships, including British and Greek ones unrelated to Israel and the Gaza crisis. This creates destabilization in the region, forcing ships to go further south towards Africa, resulting in a significant economic burden. We took this decision following the United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cessation of attacks and the protection of international trade. Our move was entirely justified. I understand that some Cypriot citizens are concerned about the potential repercussions. However, I want to clarify that these actions were taken in full coordination with the Republic of Cyprus. We have informed them thoroughly and transparently. There is no reason to believe that the risk to Cyprus has increased due to these actions. We have full control of the situation, and there is nothing indicating that Cyprus is a target or at greater risk because of this move.  The Houthis understand that this is a UK move and not a Republic of Cyprus move.

So the Republic of Cyprus has not indirectly participated in the military operations?

There has been no involvement of the Republic of Cyprus; it was purely a British initiative.

[This interview was translated from its Greek original and may have been edited for brevity and clarity]

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Cyprus  |  Turkey

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