Can you give us a brief overview of the path by which we have reached the current point in the talks on the Cyprus problem?
SS: If we really want to understand the big picture, we should say that these negotiations have a history of about eight years.
Since March 2008, when Demetris Christofias was elected to the Presidency of the Republic of Cyprus, he quickly proceeded, together with Mehmet Ali Talat and implementing the 8th July 2006 agreement, to set up Working Groups and Technical Committees in order to prepare the ground for direct negotiations. The Working Groups dealt with the substantive issues of the Cyprus problem, whereas the Technical Committees with issues that related to confidence-building measures. When the work of about three months had been accomplished, it was considered that the necessary ground had been prepared that could back the launching of direct talks, which began on 3rd September 2008. Within the space of two years a lot of work had been produced on three of the six fundamental aspects of the Cyprus problem: governance, power-sharing, economic issues, issues related to the European Union. Less work had been achieved on the property issue. At this point, Talat was defeated in 2010 and as a result Dervis Eroglu assumed the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community, with whom there hadn’t been any progress in the work. In fact, in March 2012, in view of the assumption of the EU Presidency by the Republic of Cyprus, the Turkish Cypriot side terminated the talks.
When Nicos Anastasiades took office in 2013 and said he would begin negotiations, AKEL expressed its firm position that we must call for the continuation of the negotiations from where they had left off in March 2012 and that we should also reaffirm the convergences agreed between Christofias and Talat. Anastasiades, committed also by pre-electoral alliances, stated that he would start negotiations from scratch. He made efforts with Eroglu for quite some time to find common ground, but bearing in mind the events back then with the Turkish vessel “Barbaros”, the Navtex directive and a report issued by the UN Secretary General which in effect blamed both sides for not starting negotiations, he decided that in effect the Christofias-Talat convergences needed be reaffirmed and that we should move forward. This option of reaffirming the convergences recorded proceeded better when Mustafa Akinci assumed the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community.
At this level very good work was accomplished and eventually things became entangled on the property issue, because of specific disagreements. At this point, the idea was presented of moving on to the territorial issue, because if territory was agreed it would facilitate the solution of the property issue. The Turkish Cypriot side maintained the long-standing position that the discussion of the territorial issue, indeed with maps and criteria, was something that it wanted to do abroad, due to the disturbance it would provoke within the Turkish Cypriot community, because of the issue of movement of populations. So that’s how we arrived at Mon Peleran 1 and 2.
At this point what is the objective of the Republic of Cyprus?
SS: What we want is what President Anastasiades has also stated in the past few days: We need to work in order for the negotiations to continue from the point they left off. The work that has been achieved during all this period with the convergences and the progress recorded shouldn’t be lost. We should focus on the territorial issue, because then the way for an international or multiparty conference will be paved, which will deal with the issue of security and guarantees. The outstanding issues on the secondary aspects of the Cyprus problem should be addressed, primarily the property issue, but also the issues of governance so that when we get to the international conference the issue of security and guarantees will remain. If this is agreed as well this will allow us to arrive at an agreed solution which will be put forth separately and simultaneously in referenda to decide for Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to decide whether they accept it or not.
Do you therefore consider at this stage that in any case we haven’t arrived to a point of deadlock?
SS: We have reached a difficult point, but we won’t allow the disagreements to turn into deadlocks or to a collapse of the procedure. We must find ways to continue the negotiations, safeguarding what has been achieved so far. It is a pity to see the work of eight years, which has advanced such a long way, to be lost. We do not know when there will be new circumstances, what we call a momentum, so that we again begin to have a discussion on the Cyprus problem.
Do you therefore consider that this crucial juncture can indeed be characterized as a momentum, taking also into account the Turkish Cypriot side’s disposition?
SS: It is, and it has proven to be, one very different thing to be facing Akinci rather than Eroglu. Some may want to level things, namely to argue that regardless of who the Turkish Cypriot leader is, Turkey controls everything. Certainly Turkey maintains a decisive role, but it is important if the Turkish Cypriot leader believes in a bizonal, bicommunal federation because then he will work, to the extent that he/she can, to overcome or dampen Turkey’s objections. Never before in the history of Cyprus have so many significant convergences been mutually agreed. This fact alone underlines the importance of the substance of a leader whom you are addressing. Whatever the disagreements, since he too represents his own community, he has his own priorities and concerns.
Nevertheless, Turkey is in a very difficult and critical phase. Do you really think that it can practically leave developments on the Cyprus problem unaffected?
SS: Turkey’s role is negative. While it is not interested in the internal aspects of the Cyprus problem it is on the contrary interested in the international aspects, such as security and guarantees about which Turkey itself will take decisions, as well as on territory which it connects to the previous issue.
You can’t easily “engage” with this Turkey. The question is whether at this conjecture where Turkey objectively stands to benefit from a solution, in the sense that the Cyprus problem will restore the relations between the Republic of Cyprus – Turkey so that Turkey can have synergies in the region on issues such as the energy path, realizes that this interest is big enough for it to shift from the fixed positions it has maintained. Of course, some changes have already been noted, such as with regards the long-standing Turkish position that it does not discuss an alteration in the Treaty of Alliance and Guarantees of 1960. However, in recent months it has changed its rhetoric and the Turkish Cypriot side verbally submitted a proposal which represented a shift although still unacceptable. This fact should be judged correctly, because if Turkey has moved in relation to its position, no one can say that perhaps it won’t move further at the last moment. This can be determined only for as long as negotiations are ongoing.
EPOHI” Greek weekly newspaper, 27th November 2016
Interview with Stefanos Stefanou, Spokesperson of the C.C. of AKEL
“We will not let disagreements turn into deadlocks”