Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said he’s anxious that the defeat of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party in recent elections will have a bearing on unification talks for the island.
Anastasiades told the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet in an that interview that a new government in Turkey may have a “direct effect” on the talks that just got back on track with the election of a new Turkish-Cypriot President, Mustafa Akinci, who has reached out for a compromise after decades of disappointment in the talks.
“Depending on who is going to form the coalition government in Turkey, or whether there is going to be a new election, I think the situation will affect Cyprus,” Anastasiades said. Cyprus has been divided since an unlawful 1974 Turkish invasion and Turkey still keeps a standing army in the northern third it occupies.
“I do not want to make any comments on the internal situation in Turkey. All I can say is that, as Cypriots, knowing that a key element of the decision-making is in Ankara, the situation is definitely dependent on the government that is in power and how helpful it might be,” he added.
He said he and Akıncı, who was elected in April, shared the same vision and he doesn’t want that derailed. “It is indeed a crucial moment for Cyprus. Full of hope … [We share] a vision to work tirelessly in order to find a solution on the agreed basis of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality in a single sovereignty, single-citizenship and single-international legal personality.”
“The climate is quite positive due to the political history of Mr. Akıncı. Of course, my own commitment is well-known. This is the moment that we have to work for in order to find, as soon as possible, a solution that will not create losers or winners,” he said.
“After 41 years, and with the presence of two leaders who are committed to the reunification of the island, I think we have a great chance. It is one of the best chances we have had ever since the problem was created,” Anastasiades added.
He told Hurriyet there was no time table for the talks, which are due to resume again next week, to reach a solution although Akinci said time is working against them and that another failure could be a crusher.
“There are no timeframes, because if you set timetables it means you are under pressure. This has been demonstrated in the past … it proved counterproductive and ineffective, with the most apt example being the process that led to the Annan plan,” he said, referring to the plan named after the former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that was rejected by Greek Cypriots in a 2004 referendum.
Asked about the Turkish military presence on the island, Anastasiades said a solution would make it “anachronistic,” although Ankara has shown no signs of withdrawing the troops or even discussing it.
“It goes without saying that if we find a solution, we consider the presence of foreign troops to be an anachronistic concept for a modern European state. We will discuss all the core issues in due course and I expect that we will be in a position to find a solution,” he said.
“We are a member of the European Union. There might be a need for a small military force to contribute towards certain obligations we have for CSDP [Common Security and Defense Policy] missions and Search and Rescue activities, as well as the fight against asymmetrical threats such as terrorism. Otherwise, we support demilitarization,” he added.
Anastasiades said there is lingering mistrust by many Greek-Cypriots toward Turkey, just as there is by many Turkish-Cypriots toward Greek-Cypriots.
That could play into the need for the UN to keep a presence on the island where it patrols a buffer zone, the Green Line, separating the two sides in the capital Nicosia.
“It may be that, for a transitional period, United Nations forces will have to look after the implementation of the solution,” Anastasiades added.
“The most important thing is for the solution to be a win-win situation and for the people to accept it. This is quite important. Nobody can ignore the concerns of the Greek Cypriots or the concerns of the Turkish Cypriots. It should be a balanced compromise and it should not ignore the protection of human rights and the Acquis,” he said.
A key element in the revived talks is energy, especially as international companies licensed to drill off the island have found signs of oil and gas. Turkey wants a share even if the resources aren’t off the part of the island it controls and last year sent a warship and energy research vessel into Cypriot waters in violation of international law.
That led Anastasiades to suspend the potential for new talks with then-Turkish leader Dervis Eroglu, a hardline nationalist whose defeat to Akinci raised optimism for negotiations. When Turkey withdrew the ships, Anastasiades said he would come back to the able.
Natural gas exploration rights around the island remain a core issue in the negotiations. Italian oil and gas firm ENI was recently licensed by the Greek authorities for search activities in the Mediterranean, Anastasiades recalled.
“They have carried out two exploratory drillings but due to technical reasons, they have currently suspended their drilling. For the time being, apart from the management of the already discovered natural gas in the Aphrodite field, there are no plans for further drillings. Of course, the obligations of ENI are there. We are negotiating to give them the time they need in order to overcome these technical issues,” he said.