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Akinci wishes for tension to be eliminated in “open agenda” meeting with Anastasiades

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci has told CNA that his greatest expectation from an informal meeting with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, set to take place on August 9 which will have an “open agenda”, is for tension to be eliminated and for the ground to be paved for good developments in the Cyprus problem.

In an interview with Cyprus News Agency, Akinci has said that it is his wish and expectation for the meeting to “send positive messages to the people, our communities. But if that is not the case, then I would not want to give people false hope.” At the same time, in a message to both the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot community he vowed to work to put the painful past of the island behind.

Asked about the issue of hydrocarbons, Akinci said that the two sides in Cyprus are obliged to find a way out for the benefit of both communities. He reiterated his proposal to establish a joint committee to administer hydrocarbons and said that if properly regulated, the issue could help in reaching a Cyprus settlement. At the same time, he did not rule out the idea of a moratorium for hydrocarbon activities.

Replying to a question about developments in Varosha, the fenced-off part of Famagusta, Akinci said that all moves of the Turkish Cypriot side should be conducted in line with the UN decisions and international law.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory. Turkey has ignored numerous UN resolutions calling for the withdrawal of its troops from Cyprus. Repeated rounds of UN-led peace talks have so far failed to yield results. The last round of negotiations, in the summer of 2017, at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana ended inconclusively.

Meeting “with an open heart”
Replying to a question on an informal meeting he will have with President Anastasiades on August 9, Akinci said that “all eyes are on this meeting”, adding that “Guterres (The UN Secretary General) noted the importance of this meeting and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also referred to it when he visited ‘Southern’ Cyprus,” as he called the Republic of Cyprus.

It is a matter of public interest in both communities, he said, adding that everyone sees that the course we are on is not a good one and if we do not achieve positive developments on the island, this will affect the climate and the tension around us will increase.

Akinci said that it will be a meeting with an open agenda and discussion will take place on matters put forward by both leaders. According to him, the matter of the natural gas should be discussed as well as new Confidence Building Measures, and “any matters Anastasiades wishes to raise for discussion.” For example, he added, we have achieved a number of CBMs for the benefit of citizens in both communities, such as the opening of new cross points, the electricity connection and the mobile phone connectivity. We have reached a point where we could add new CBMs, he said, posing the question “why shouldn’t we go ahead and do it?”

According to the Turkish Cypriot leader, his greatest expectation is for tension to be eliminated, for the ground to be paved for good developments. The meeting, he noted, “should take place with an open heart and with political determination and political will.”
After two years, he continued, we should discuss “with an open heart” how we see this country’s future, what way forward we can find, how our views can approach each other’s and within which framework.

“I would like to hear from Mr. Anastasiades, in view of the review he made at the end of the previous process, which is the point where he believes we can agree. And I wish to outline to him my thoughts. We should share our thoughts about what is feasible and what isn’t,” he said.
It is my wish and expectation, Akinci added, “for a meeting to take place which will send positive messages to the people, our communities. But if that is not the case, then I would not want to give people false hope.”

Replying to a question whether the trilateral meeting of the two leaders with the UN Secretary General would depend on the outcome of this informal meeting, the Turkish Cypriot leader wanted to clarify, as he put it, that during his telephone conversation with Guterres, the Secretary General did not propose a trilateral meeting within the framework of the UN General Assembly.

«We will meet separately, that is what we said, but he told us that after the General Assembly concludes, he could avail himself so that the three of us can meet either in New York or another European city». He recalled that a trilateral meeting in the context of a dinner in New York has taken place in the past.

“But Mr. Guterres also said something else; to settle the matter of the terms of reference. Therefore, he has told us what is his expectation,” he noted.

Replying to a question on the possibility of a five-party meeting, the Turkish Cypriot leader said that both in his letter and in President Anastasiades’ letter to the UN Secretary General a reference is made to such a meeting. “We are talking about an informal five-party meeting,” because no-one wishes to go to an official meeting such as the one in Crans-Montana and face a breakdown, “at least I do not want something like that.”

Even for an informal five-party meeting good preparation should take place, he remarked, adding that the most important thing is to make it clear if “all sides want the same thing or not.”

Akinci continued referring to statements by Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who alleged that President Anastasiades spoke to him in the summer of 2017, in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana, about a two-state solution and later during a meeting they had in New York for a confederation, while to Akinci himself Anastasiades had referred to a loose federation and afterwards to a decentralized federation and a change from a parliamentary system and rotating presidency to a rotating prime ministerial position.

“That is why in an informal meeting with all the sides, it should be made clear exactly what we want, what is the goal, whether there is one vision and if there is substance to what we are discussing,” he said and gave the example of political equality, pointing out that it should not just remain a declaration but rather its content should be discussed so that both sides understand the same thing. “We need to discuss these matters from the point of view of a common goal,” he added.

Akinci said that possibly, the meeting between the two leaders will be followed by the trilateral meeting and between those two meetings, at a date which has not been determined, UN envoy Jane Holl Lute will visit Cyprus. “A five-party conference should take place at a not too distant date,” he added.

Asked whether the terms of reference should be agreed upon before the trilateral meeting with the UN Secretary General, he replied that this is what Guterres expects, but said that this does not mean that a trilateral meeting will not take place if there is no conclusion on the terms of reference.

Replying to a question as to whether the matter can be resolved during the two leaders’ informal meeting, Akinci said that this seems to be difficult, taking into consideration the positions of the two sides today. “But let us discuss it and see what happens.”

Our position on the matter is clear, he added, “we want the past convergences to continue to be in place, we said it clearly to Ms Lute; The joint declaration of February 11, 2014, the framework of June 30, 2017 without amendments.”

In the last UN Security Council resolution, the Secretary General and the Security Council have underlined once more these elements, there is also a clearer reference to political equality through past UN resolutions, he noted, adding that “Mr. Anastasiades should speak more clearly and in detail on this matter.”

Called on to comment on the fact that President Anastasiades’ letter to the UN SG refers to a decentralized federation and the fact that he himself has stated in the past that it could be an option, the Turkish Cypriot leader told CNA that the Turkish Cypriot side submitted proposals in the past in this direction, but that it was the Greek Cypriot negotiating team which made an effort to concentrate more powers in the central government.

If now there is new approach on the part of the Greek Cypriot side on the matter of decentralized powers, let us sit down and see which ones will be distributed to the constituent states, he said, adding that in the last meeting the two leaders had discussed the matter but that no list was submitted by the Greek Cypriot side.

He reiterated his position that even if a small number of powers remain as the competence of the central government, if the one sides says that it could make decisions without needing the other side’s vote, then it would not be a federation. “It is what is perceived to be a single state. If no area of responsibility remains with the central government and all of them are distributed to the constituent states, then this again would not be a federation, but two states.”

“If we create a bizonal, bicommunal, federal structure, based on political equality as is provided for by the UN Security Council decisions and the efforts which have been made so far, it means that we need to accept to share the power and for the effective participation of both sides in the decision making process. This is the substance,” he noted.

If, he continued, we review the points we have agreed on to the benefit of both sides and we agree that they are to the benefit of both sides, then the decentralized federation could be discussed at a later stage.

Urged to comment on the impression made in the Greek Cypriot public opinion that he is the only one who supports a bizonal, bicommunal federation solution in the Turkish Cypriot side and whether he feels “lonely” on that account, Mustafa Akinci said that no leader who feels close to his people, feels lonely afterwards.

He also said that the Cyprus problem is a process which involves everyone, the so called “government” of the Turkish-occupied areas, the opposition, civil society, unions and organisations, adding that certainly a dialogue with Turkey also needs to take place, just as the Greek Cypriot side does with Greece, as we recently witnessed.

A process which will lead to the solution also needs consultation with Turkey since its support is necessary, just like the support of Greece. At any rate, he said, during the informal five-party meeting it will become clear who supports what.

“I wish to underline that the Turkish officials, due to the messages received by the Greek Cypriots, have said that that different models (for a solution) can be discussed,” he said, adding that “they did not say, at least recently, that the federation is not on the table. They say that we should examine all the choices and that all the choices are on the table.”

According to Akinci, it is clear what is a choice that could be made and “the time has finally come for things to become clear. This is what we will try to do, what we must do as leaders. And afterwards, during the trilateral and finally during the five-party meeting, we need to see whether there is unity (of purpose) or not before we discuss the details.”

He acknowledged that even within the Turkish Cypriot side there may be different opinions and that not everyone thinks the same on every matter, but added that what is important is for there to be unity as to the goal to be reached.

Asked how his relationship is with President Anastasiades and whether they trust each other or not, Akinci said that on a personal level they have no problem.  He is a leader who was voted in power twice, he said. He added that there is a difference in their policy and views, adding at the same time that no-one should forget the distance they covered during 2015 and 2016 agreeing on new convergences in the negotiations.
“I prefer to focus on what brings us closer than what separates us,” he said, adding that he wishes to send “a message to the Greek Cypriot community that the current course benefits no-one, neither Turkish Cypriots, nor Greek Cypriots.”

“… natural gas could help in reaching a solution”
Akinci was also asked if the two leaders could come up with a common idea about the issue of natural gas in their upcoming meeting and said that the Greek Cypriot side considers the matter as totally unrelated to the negotiations. “However, it has become a chapter of our lives, it is among the important topics in the news and it has become an issue which, if properly regulated, could help in reaching a solution. But if it is handled wrongly, as today, then it could wreck the solution” he noted.

The Turkish Cypriot leader said that discussing the issue is only logical and added that he called on President Anastasiades repeatedly to handle it jointly, as was the case in their first meeting, back in May 2015 before the resumption of settlement talks. Under today’s circumstances, we are obliged to discuss the matter, we are obliged to find a way out for the benefit of both communities, Akinci went on.

He recalled a proposal he submitted last month, concerning the establishment of a joint committee to administer hydrocarbon issues, which was subsequently dismissed by the Council of political party leaders, during a session under President Anastasiades. Akinci said that natural gas issues are considered a competence of the future federal government and the Turkish Cypriot side has no objection with that. He said, however, that there is no solution at the moment and it would be only logical to have a joint committee in order to look at this issue together, roll out a programme or at least discuss about percentages.

Akinci also said that some argue wrongly that the Turkish Cypriot side asks for a 50/50 share and said that his proposal contains no such reference. “We said that we should discuss a reasonable share,” he added.

As to his proposal on natural gas, Akinci said that it was prematurely rejected by the Greek Cypriot side and added that this was wrong. Discussing the proposal with foreign diplomats, they told him they find it reasonable, he argued.

During his August 9 meeting with President Anastasiades, Akinci said that he will try to explain the need to find a way out. “It may not be part of the negotiating chapters, but it is a chapter of our lives, of our region and the cause of tension”, he continued. If one side says “I am not forming a committee, wait until after the solution”, which no one knows when it will happen, but in the meantime starts to send gas from the Aphrodite gas field to Egypt and, after some years, starts to collect revenue, then this is not satisfactory for the Turkish Cypriot side or Turkey, he added.

The Turkish Cypriot leader said that in this case, the Turkish side responds with drillings and exploration activities and referred to the presence of two Turkish drill ships off Cyprus for exploration activities, as he said. He questioned whether this situation is ideal and said that “what is ideal is to come close, to reach a deal.” In order for this to happen, the two sides should be able to talk, therefore, we propose a committee to discuss the issue, otherwise we will have the perpetuation of the ongoing situation, he said.

The Turkish Cypriot leader also noted that if Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots are able to form a joint committee to administer their affairs, such as shares and the creation of a fund for hydrocarbon revenues, Cyprus will be also able to discuss the delimitation of its maritime areas with Turkey after a federal solution is reached.

He also pointed to the Turkish point of view that Greece and the Greek Cypriots try to confine Ankara’s maritime area with the argument that all Greek islands are entitled to an EEZ, despite Turkey being the country with the lengthiest coastline. The way out of this is to seek a reasonable agreement or go to international courts, however the second option is not possible with the sides not recognizing each other, Akinci said. He added that in case of a Cyprus settlement, delimitation will be part of the discussions between Cyprus and Turkey, as well as between Turkey and Greece.

The Turkish Cypriot leader said that there are steps that can be taken to improve relations between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, relations with Turkey and relations between Turkey and Greece, this however requires a Cyprus settlement that will contribute to peace in the region.

“Unreasonable” and costly programmes, such as the EastMed pipeline, are being advanced, due to sour relations between Turkey and regional countries and the Greek Cypriots, he went on. The EastMed pipeline project which aspires to link Eastern Mediterranean energy resources with Greece via Cyprus, has the political backing of many governments in the region, including that of Israel, Cyprus and Greece.

If peace prevails, Akinci went on, more practical, fast and quick alternatives will emerge, with the only possible obstacle being a political deadlock. When we overcome all political pending issues, everyone will benefit and all will take their share, while contributing to peace and stability in the region, he added. “Therefore, we need to look at the bigger picture and not narrow our view to our small island” he noted.
Asked if a deal on natural gas forms a precondition for starting a new negotiation process, the Turkish Cypriot leader said that he does not want to set preconditions through his interview, he said however that there is a reality to be reckoned with.

According to Akinci, there is a great imbalance if negotiations resume and Greek Cypriot-licensed companies and Turkish drill ships continue with their drilling activities. “This imbalance will continue, military ships will circle around rigs and you will pretend that nothing happens and will continue to negotiate” he said, referring to the Greek Cypriot side.

“Even if our side does not speak about preconditions, will the prevailing political climate allow us to go on”, he wondered and said that “basically, it is the Greek Cypriot side setting preconditions, by saying that as long as Turkey continues with its drilling in the region, negotiations cannot resume.”

Akinci also said that negotiations were halted in 2014, when Barbaros, a Turkish research vessel, emerged in the region, during the time of his predecessor, Dervis Eroglu. He said, however, that the difference now is that there are presently no negotiations that can be suspended.

In reality, he went on, there are a few formulas that may be advanced regarding hydrocarbons. He reiterated his proposal for establishing a joint committee and said that if this is rejected, the idea of a moratorium could be deemed timely in order to give room for negotiations. He referred to a proposal by former Cyprus Foreign Minister Nicos Rolandis, adding that there could be a one-year break in hydrocarbon activities. “This proposal could be evaluated as well if there is no convergence otherwise” Akinci noted.

Setting up a joint committee will differentiate the present situation, as long as there is willingness, Akinci said, adding at the same time that this is the element which is missing. We should be able to solve some problems, even in the absence of a comprehensive solution, and show this to our people, he said. He added that people should be able to say that the main goal is a Cyprus settlement, but on the way there, leaders are able to solve other emerging problems. “This is what we need to achieve and we can do it if we wish so,” he remarked.

Turkey announced its intention to start drilling off Cyprus and send on 4 May 2019 the Turkish drill ship “Fatih”, which remains anchored 36 nautical miles west of Akamas peninsula, in an area that falls within the EEZ and continental shelf of the Republic of Cyprus. A second Turkish drill ship, “Yavuz”, arrived off the island’s north-eastern coast on 8 July 2019.

In response, EU Foreign Ministers endorsed on 15 July 2019 measures concerning Turkey’s illegal drilling in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Cyprus. In accordance with the 20 June 2019 European Council conclusions, Foreign Ministers also invited the High Representative and the European Commission to continue working on options for targeted measures in light of Turkey’s continued drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In Varosha Turkish Cypriots should not pit themselves against UN
Asked about the latest developments concerning Varosha, the fenced-off part of Famagusta, Mustafa Akinci told CNA that he retains a clear position on this matter. He pointed to the inventory study announced by the “government” of the illegal regime in the Turkish-occupied areas and said that there is no harm in updating past records. “My point is clear, whatever we do in Varosha needs to be done in line with international law and in accordance with the United Nations. We should not undertake something that will pit us against the United Nations. The Turkish Cypriot side will face difficulties” otherwise, he warned.

Last June, self-styled “foreign minister” Kudret Özersay announced that the “government” will start an inventory study to examine the possibility of reopening Varosha, the fenced off section of the Turkish-occupied town of Famagusta. There are also claims that Varosha properties belong to EVKAF, a Muslim charitable foundation.

Efforts over the years for the legitimate citizens of Famagusta to return to the city have met with the refusal of the Turkish side, despite numerous decisions and resolutions by the UN, EU and other international institutions. UN Security Council resolution 550 (1984) considers any attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the UN.

In his interview with CNA, Akinci said that the continuation of the status quo is being questioned and this reflects various occurrences, such as natural gas developments, and the process to renew the mandate of the peacekeeping force (UNFICYP), which is not a work of routine anymore.
“Now there are these steps taken with regard to Varosha. This has been a dead town for many years. How long will it remain like this? It shouldn’t stay like this” he said. He also wondered if the town will reopen under Turkish Cypriot administration, despite UN resolutions. “As the Turkish Cypriot leader, I deem that all moves should be conducted in line with the UN decisions and international law” he noted.

With regard to EVKAF claims, Akinci reiterated his position to act in accordance with international law and said that there are different claims in Varosha, which should be referred to international courts.

Asked about the reason he rejected the proposal of President Anastasiades to form a joint commission for Varosha, Akinci said that the matter has not been discussed in detail. He added that President Anastasiades is free to bring up for discussion any issue he wants at their August 9 meeting. There is a lot that can be done with regard to Confidence Building Measures, Akinci said, adding that his aim is to highlight the points that unite the two sides.

He said finally that he also submitted a proposal in the past regarding the opening of Varosha under UN administration, in return for opening the Famagusta port and allowing direct international flights to the Tympou airport, which operates illegally in the northern, Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus.

Discussions did not progress back then, because of the enthusiasm for a solution and due to Turkey’s view that Famagusta should be part of a comprehensive settlement, Akinci noted. He said that if President Anastasiades wishes to discuss the matter with him, they will do so, as with a series of other issues, he said however that they should give preference to issues with immediate effect, as part of CBMs.

«I will work to put the painful past behind», Akinci vows
Asked what message he would like to send to the Greek Cypriot community, the Turkish Cypriot leader said that he wishes to convey a message to both communities.

“We live in a beautiful island. It could become a paradise. As I have said in the past, in this island both the Turkish Cypriot community and the Greek Cypriot community have endured much pain, in different periods of time, in different circumstances, nonetheless it was pain. Let us now leave the painful past behind. We need to be able to go forward towards a happy future. We must achieve this. Many communities have achieved it in the world and next to us in Europe. We can achieve it too,” he said.

He vowed to “work in that direction and I want both the Turkish Cypriot community and the Greek Cypriot community to know this.”
Concluding, Akinci asked everyone to remain cautiously optimistic and view events in a positive light, have a positive position and to jointly work in order for the outcomes to be positive.

(Cyprus News Aency)

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