Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cyprus at a crossroads - Athens News Jan 2012

With an expected huge dowry from its energy jackpot, the Republic of Cyprus has enhanced its regional position and is building new alliances, even as it refreshes older ones. Countries from the US to Russia and Germany are now courting the island republic, which just seven years ago was ostracised due to its rejection of the settlement plan proposed by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan. In an interview with the Athens News, Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Markoullis outlines the importance of the Cyprus-Israel relationship, [reviews] the efforts towards a Cyprus solution and [talks about] the upcoming European Council presidency.

Athens News: What are the energy, political and military aspects of Cyprus’ strategic partnership with Israel and how does this relationship affect geopolitical balances in the southeastern Mediterranean? Is it a deterrent for Turkish military threats over Cyprus’ gas exploration programme?

Erato Kozakou-Markoullis: The bilateral relations between Cyprus and Israel have traditionally been very good and they have developed steadily, with noticeable qualitative and quantitative improvement on many levels in recent years. There have been many visits exchanged at all levels, and an important number of agreements have been concluded. Our cooperation on regional and wider international issues of common interest has intensified.

We should probably start from the fact that since 2004 we have joined the EU, which is Israel’s largest trading partner, and by being the most proximate EU territory to Israel, this naturally attracts a great number of Israelis wishing to do business with the EU.

The agreement between Cyprus and Israel on the Delimitation of their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) in 2010 has been an important development, which opens up new avenues of cooperation between the two states. This cooperation will safeguard the economic and financial interests of both countries in the region and will facilitate the planning and implementation of private cross-median line investments.

Additionally, we are a very popular destination for Israeli tourists, and this has been the case since the 1960s. For many Cypriots, Israel has been a life-saving destination, as many Cypriot patients travel to Israel for advanced, sometimes revolutionary medical treatment not available in Cyprus. All in all, I think that the relationship which has been forged some decades ago has now matured.

But there are also other elements. It is clear that for many Israelis, Cyprus is perceived to be the friendliest neighbouring country, a European country, and perhaps even a safe haven - metaphorically or otherwise.

So, all in all, the broadening relationship is a natural development. But we have also agreed, and I think this was done some time ago, to disagree on certain issues. Our stance on the rights of Palestinians has been steady, and I think Cyprus is well respected in Israel for the way in which we have expressed our views on this issue. At the same time, Cyprus can play a more active role in the broader area of the Eastern Mediterranean, given the excellent relations it has with the Arab world. The development of the relations with Israel is by no means to the detriment of the relations with Cyprus’ Arab neighbours.

As for the Turkish threats, Turkish military activity in and around Cyprus has been a constant phenomenon since it invaded the island in 1974 and occupied its northern third. Turkey’s recent hostile threats and actions regarding Cyprus’ activities within the EEZ are not based or supported by any valid or substantive legal argument, being one of the few member states of the UN that has not even signed the UN Law of the Sea Convention. Turkey’s policy and actions remain one of aggression and of disregard of international law and principles, and jeopardise peace, stability and security in our volatile region.

Some press reports have referred to relations with Israel as having a deterrent effect on Turkey in terms of its threats over the exercising of our sovereign right to exploit the natural resources in our EEZ. I think it is fair to say that it is not quite clear that one factor alone is deterring Turkey, or that there is a clear analysis in Ankara as to the degree to which they can press the issue, and at what point the policy of sabre-rattling will have a detrimental effect. It is perhaps a question that needs to be addressed to Turkish decision- makers.

The fact, however, remains that the international community - with the sole exception of Turkey - in one way or another has expressed its support for the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources in its EEZ and this constitutes, in our mind, the most important deterrent and the political and legal shield that protects the interests and sovereign rights of Cyprus.

Cyprus Republic Dimitris President Christofias said that Turkish-Cypriots will have their share of the wealth from energy. Will this happen before or after a settlement, and what will determine the shares of the two communities in a new federation: size of population? Should this be an issue in ongoing settlement talks?

With regard to the benefits that will accrue once hydrocarbons are identified and exploited, I would like to reiterate the words of President Christofias that the Turkish-Cypriots are citizens of the Republic of Cyprus and as such they can enjoy within the framework of a reunited homeland the benefits of any natural wealth that Cyprus has. The president furthermore indicated that the exploitation of any possible natural gas reserves in the EEZ of Cyprus can potentially motivate the attainment of a solution to the Cyprus problem soon so that all the Cypriot citizens, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, can benefit from any positive development.

As it has already been agreed during the current negotiating process, the central federal government will be responsible for the management and exploitation of natural resources. Therefore, it remains of the highest priority and urgency to reach a comprehensive agreement on the overall settlement of the Cyprus problem in order for all the people of Cyprus - Greek-Cypriots, Turkish-Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians and Latins - to be able to benefit from this important development which has the potential of providing prosperity and progress not only to the present generation of Cypriots but for many generations to come. I hope that Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership will be able to grasp these tremendous opportunities and unblock the way to the reunification of the island and its people.

What are Cyprus’ priorities as head of the six-month-long EU presidency? How do you plan to handle Turkey’s threats to freeze ties with the EU? Given Cyprus’ proximity and close ties with both Israel and Arab countries, will your presidency attempt to play a role in the Middle East?

The priorities of the Cyprus presidency will be based on the 18-month programme of the three [consecutive] presidencies that has already been announced (Poland, Denmark, Cyprus). In line with the 18-month programme of the trio, the Cypriot presidency will aim inter alia to conclude the negotiations for the new Multiannual Financial Framework (2014-2020) by the end of 2012 and will promote the effective implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy. With the signing of the accession treaty of Croatia, the trio has already fulfilled one of its priorities; during the Cyprus presidency, the European perspective of the Western Balkans will be further advanced on the basis of the relevant conclusions of the latest European Council. Furthermore, we will aim to achieve further progress in Iceland’s accession negotiations. We will also be working on the enhancement of the European Neighbourhood Policy, focusing attention on its southern dimension in the context of the “Arab Spring”, without, however, neglecting the eastern dimension, which was the focus of the Polish presidency.

The completion of the Common European Asylum System by the end of 2012 is another priority for the trio presidency, as well as the further reinforcement of the EU Integrated Maritime Policy. Issues like security, crisis management and combating international terrorism on the basis of the UN charter will be dealt with, as well as the support towards developing countries in addressing food security challenges.

Regarding Turkey’s threats to freeze ties with the EU during the Cyprus presidency, the latest statements of Turkish President Abdullah Gul, and those by other high-ranking Turkish officials on this matter, are totally unacceptable. On 5 December 2011 the EU General Affairs Council in the conclusions adopted during its meeting urged “the avoidance of any kind of threat or action directed against a member state or source of friction or actions”, regretted “Turkey’s statements to freeze its relations with the EU presidency during the second half of 2012” and underlined “that the presidency of the Council of the EU is provided for in the Treaty on European Union”. As such, Turkey’s threat constitutes an unwelcome interference in internal EU matters. At the initiative of President Christofias a similarly strong statement was included in the European Council Conclusions of 9 December 2011, making sure that an unequivocal message was sent to Turkey from the highest level of the EU, strongly criticising it for provocative threats and actions.

During our presidency, we will act as an honest broker in the search of consensus, as it is the practice of the EU on all dossiers, including those of Turkey’s relations with the Union. It is up to Turkey to respond responsibly and contribute to the mutual interests of both the EU and itself. We have no intention of defining our presidency by the Cyprus problem.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expected the two sides to have concluded all aspects of a settlement by January, and then the UN would call an international conference on the external aspects such as security and guarantees. What happens if that is not achieved? Do you have certain “red lines” about going to international arbitration, UN or otherwise, and what are your conditions for participating in an international conference? What would be the specific mandate of such a conference and which parties would participate?

Past experience has conclusively shown that imposing artificial deadlines and arbitration are counter-productive vis-a-vis efforts to reach a commonly agreed comprehensive settlement that will be lasting and viable.

In this regard, we stand firmly against both. We are in full agreement with the UN secretary-general’s call for reaching agreement on the internal aspects of the Cyprus problem - ie governance, economic matters, EU matters, property (in conjunction with territorial adjustments) and citizenship - the soonest possible, in order to pave the way for an international conference to deal with the international aspects of the Cyprus problem, including, crucially, the issues of security and guarantees. This conference ought to be convened under the aegis of the UN secretary-general, with the participation of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, the EU, the guarantor powers, the Republic of Cyprus and the two Cyprus communities.

At the same time, I must stress that reaching agreement on the internal aspects by January 2012 will remain an impossible task if [Turkish-Cypriot leader Dervis] Eroglu, with Turkey’s staunch support, maintains his usual intransigent approach and insists on tabling proposals well outside the agreed basis for the negotiations and which clearly contradict the stated objective of a bicommunal, bizonal federation, with a single sovereignty, single international personality and a single citizenship.

Eroglu must also commit unequivocally to, and not backtrack from, past convergences reached while Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat was the Turkish-Cypriot interlocutor in the negotiations.

Finally, it ought to be absolutely clear that, should it prove unfeasible to convene an international conference after the January 2012 meeting as a result of Eroglu’s unwillingness to negotiate and reach agreement on the internal aspects in good faith and within the framework of the agreed basis, the secretary-general’s efforts in the context of the Good Offices mission must continue in line with the mandate assigned to him by the Security Council of the United Nations. In any case, the UN Security Council remains the only body of the UN responsible to decide on how to move forward.

Cyprus at a crossroads by George Gilson 15 Jan 2012 Athens News

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As either unitary state or federation solutions are discussed as replacements to Cyprus' 1960 and Turkey's 1923 unworkable constitutions, should we abide by "if a right is a right too many for Turkey's Kurdish community (circa 23% of population) then that right is a right too many for Cyprus' tCypriot community too (circa 15%), and vice versa." Is the adoption of this fair logic the catalyst to securing just solutions for both UN countries.