Interview given by Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Christodoulides to journalist Marina Economidou for 'Kathimerini' Cyprus newspaper
[Available here as published online, in English, on 26 April 2021]
A failure of the informal five-party summit would constitute a negative development for all participants, Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said in an interview with Kathimerini Cyprus' Marina Economides, just before the new UN-led initiative was set to kick off in Geneva on Tuesday.
Christodoulides revealed that Nicosia has learnt that the new US administration has conveyed to Turkey that it cannot accept a two-state solution. He also said that though the EU won’t formally participate in the informal summit, international players can still play a decisive role at the summit, allowing positive results to emerge.
Should we assume that we’re going to an informal summit doomed to fail?
Given that public statements being issued in favour of a two-state solution, as well as Turkey’s unacceptable behaviour even as regards Turkish Cypriots, such as the recent example involving the issue of Quran lessons in schools in occupied areas, there’s good reason for pessimism to prevail as regards the outcome of the informal summit on the Cyprus problem in Geneva. Despite this, I believe that it would be wrong for us to go to Geneva believing in advance that it would result in a failure.
Are there however any margins for optimism?
A basic review of Cyprus problem negotiations since they began in 1976 easily leads us to the conclusion that we have participated in many such meetings having in the back of our minds already formed an opinion that efforts will fail due to Turkey’s stance, but then in the course of discussions were forced to re-assess since Turkey had arrived with a different perspective from the one it had been publicly proclaiming. So, yes, certain factors don’t allow for optimism, but in no case should we be prejudging the informal summit’s outcome, since a failure, I believe, would constitute a negative development for all participants. At the same time, without the issue of assigning blame being a priority for our side, we must do everything possible, within the framework of our positions of course, to bring about a positive result. Within this framework, I can tell you that our side has prepared for a number of scenarios that could play out during the informal summit.
In the scenarios that you have prepared for, is there also the possibility that Turkey steps in with a surprise?
As I have mentioned before, I do not rule out such a possibility and I have expressed the need to be prepared for all scenarios. But I certainly do not know how Turkey will move. What interests me most, especially in the current context, is how our side will move and that we are prepared for any scenario that may arise at the informal summit.
The facts, however, do not seem to be in our favor. We saw the tense press conference held by the Greek Foreign Minister with his Turkish counterpart, and then Cavusoglu’s preachings from the occupied territories about absolute agreement on a two-state solution, as well as Tatar’s statements calling for a change to the solution model… How is all this being handled?
Certainly all that you have mentioned are not positive developments, and they are undoubtedly sources of concern for us. At the same time, we must not ignore, among other things, the growing voices of dissent in the occupied territories, both as regards Turkey's policy towards Turkish Cypriots and in view of Mr. Tatar's approach to resolving the Cyprus issue. Nor would I not ignore the European Union’s clear position against a two-state solution in Cyprus, as well as its clear position that any decisions on a potential positive agenda between Turkey and the European Union also depend on developments in the Cyprus issue. In the same context, I would not downplay the similar position held by the United Nations Security Council as regards the objective being pursued, and especially the position of the new US administration, which we know has been conveyed to Turkey and is summed up in that a two-state solution in Cyprus cannot be accepted.
Do you think that this is enough for there to be positive developments in the resolution of the Cyprus problem?
I pointed out that a failure of the informal summit will be a negative thing for all participants; I really believe that the Cyprus problem can be resolved only if all parties involved realize that such a development serves their interests more than the current unacceptable status quo is. And I believe that if everyone thinks rationally and takes into account the unpredictability of the current situation, but also to better meet general aspirations, they can then easily conclude that it is in the interest of all those involved to resolve the Cyprus issue.
Should we suppose that we are placing our hopes solely in the United Nations?
Certainly the role of the United Nations is crucial, being as it is the custodian of the framework of the debate to be held in Geneva, which be none other than the decisions related to Cyprus. At the same time, the fact that amid the unprecedented pandemic the UN Secretary General has chosen to convene such a summit, which is in fact his first such multilateral meeting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, speaks for his readiness and commitment to resolve the Cyprus problem. Beyond that, however, the United Nations alone cannot impose any developments, and I believe that international actors who may not be formally present at the informal Geneva summit can play a decisive role at this particular juncture and contribute to the emergence of positive developments.
We have, of course, placed particular emphasis on the role that the EU will play and on the fact that it will constitute a shield to the two-state solution Ankara will table. What will be the EU’s role ultimately be in the informal summit?
Indeed, we placed particular emphasis on the role that the EU can play not only because the Republic of Cyprus is and will continue to be a member state of the European Union after a possible solution to the Cyprus problem, not only because the experience of the last negotiation process showed that the European Union’s involvement was crucial in achieving significant convergences for the first time that would benefit the entirety of the people of Cyprus, not only because the halloumi case was proof of the strength of the acquis communautaire as a tool that can bring the two communities closer and pave the way for mutual cooperation and coexistence, but also because presently we are fully aware of Turkey’s need and desire to launch a negotiation process for the modernization of its customs union with the EU. All these factors are being taken into account, as well as the fact that several EU member states, wishing to serve their own national goals, are seeking a strengthening of Euro-Turkish relations, which undoubtedly also depend on the resolution of the Cyprus problem. I believe it is clear that the EU can, among other things, help all parties involved realize the benefits to be gained from the resolution of the Cyprus issue, which, as I mentioned before, is a precondition for a positive result. Therefore, regardless of the physical presence or not of the EU at the table in Geneva, its role at this juncture is of particular importance. It was also the EU that I had in mind when I told you that I believe that international actors who may not be formally attending the informal Geneva summit can play a key role in bringing about positive developments there.
After decades of negotiations and talks, this time we are placn special emphasis on the issue of governance. In the decentralized federation that we support as a compromise solution, what competences are transferred to the constituent states?
The issue of the competences and responsibilities of the central government and the constituent states is undoubtedly an important chapter in efforts to resolve the Cyprus issue since it also touches on the functionality of the state, but it is certainly not the only important issue, and I believe that it alone cannot determine whether a positive outcome will be achieved or not in Geneva. For example, the issue of territorial adjustments, as well as the guarantees chapter, are of particular importance and I would say that they will prove more decisive in terms of the result. Let me remind you that the UN Secretary General on June 4, 2017 in New York, after a joint meeting with the President of the Republic and the Turkish Cypriot leader, had publicly expressed the view, with which we fully agree, that developments in the discussion on security and guarantees is what will largely determine whether we will achieve a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem. With regards to your question, what competences can be transferred to the states, you realize that it would not be responsible of to talk specifically, and publicly, about the matter before the Geneva meeting. But I can tell you that the President is ready to do just that in the context of the negotiations to be held in Geneva, while as a general philosophy as regards your question, what I would like to point out is our approach does not go beyond the agreed-upon solution framework which is the bi-zonal bi-communal federation.
There are certain circles that consider that our side’s compromise solution is a loose federation bordering on a confederation. Is a confederation a red line?
There is a clear difference between a federation in general and a confederation. A confederation presupposes the recognition of a separate state in the occupied territories, and, consequently, the de-recognition of the Republic of Cyprus. You understand that such a development cannot be accepted, neither can the resolution of the Cyprus issue on the basis of two states. The President's proposal for a decentralized federation was made, among other reasons, to ensure on the one hand the functionality of the state, but also on the other hand in order to address certain concerns among Turkish Cypriots relating to what they consider possible attempts by Greek Cypriots in a federal state to impose their views on matters concerning them. But we are always talking about a bi-zonal bi-communal federation.
What will constitute a success for our side? A new conference in the summer or the clarification that discussions are taking place on the basis of a bi-zonal bi-communal federation?
The result we desire at the Geneva summit would be an agreement to resume talks from where they left off in Crans-Montana, with the aim of resolving the Cyprus issue on the basis of the agreed-upon solution framework. This could be done by holding a conference on Cyprus along the lines of that held in Crans-Montana, picking up from where talks ended in the summer of 2017 and taking into account the outcomes of the meeting of the UN Secretary General with the two leaders in November 2019 in Berlin.