Interview with Toumazos Tsielepis, member of the Political Bureau of the C.C. of AKEL, Head of the Cyprus Problem Bureau of the C.C. and International Law expert
The acceptance of the Guterres Framework should be translated into practice
– “The sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus cannot be exercised jointly while an illegal entity exists which no one recognizes. Before this can be done, the Cyprus problem must be solved beforehand”
– “The UN Secretary-General will consent to substantive negotiations only if he has secured some assurances that the procedure will be meaningful. In other words, that it may proceed to a trilateral meeting, even towards an informal five-party meeting, but he won’t proceed to a resumption of negotiations if the preconditions he himself set won’t have been met”
Has Turkey put us in a difficult position with its presence in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)? Has Turkey put the energy issue in the frame of the Cyprus problem for good?
TT: Turkey was always trying to put the energy issue in the frame of the Cyprus problem. In contrast, at no time did the Greek Cypriot side agree to discuss energy issues as part of the Cyprus issue. We know, of course, that the energy issue in any case is an important part of the overall effort, but it does not concern the inter-community talks. The sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus cannot be exercised jointly when there is an illegal entity that no one recognizes. In order for this to be possible, the Cyprus problem must first be resolved.
However, there is a second important issue as well. We want natural gas to act as an incentive for both communities to resolve the Cyprus problem. We, the Greek Cypriots, because we can see how many difficulties we are facing to exploit the natural gas with the Cyprus problem unresolved. I think those forces and circles who had illusions about this issue, with the latest developments should reconsider their point of view.
The Turkish Cypriot community knows that there is only one lawful way for it to benefit as well and that is none other than through the solution of the Cyprus problem. If we put the cart in front of the horse and start dealing with natural gas issues without the solution of the Cyprus appearing on the horizon, this may also act as a disincentive for a solution.
We therefore have an additional reason to solve the Cyprus problem. Otherwise, this arbitrary attitude of Turkey that violates the UN Law of the Sea will not stop. This does not mean that we should remain apathetic to what Turkey is doing, but the safest and surest way to deal with it is through the solution of the Cyprus problem. That’s precisely where we need to focus our attention and energy on.
Does the UN Secretary-General’s sounding out for a trilateral and then a five-party meeting or a direct five-party meeting represent a positive development?
TT: If the UN Secretary-General has sounded out both sides to proceed to the next step, then this is a positive development. An effort is underway to overcome the obstacles and create preconditions for a resumption of the negotiating procedure with the possibility of a positive outcome. The UN Secretary-General will only agree to a substantive negotiation if he has secured some assurances that the procedure will be meaningful. In other words, he may proceed to a trilateral meeting, even to an informal five-party meeting, but he will not proceed to substantive resumption of negotiations unless the preconditions he himself has set out have been fulfilled.
Some reports indicate that the Turkish side also does not want right now to proceed to substantive negotiations because the so-called ‘elections’ in the occupied territories are due to take place. Doesn’t this complicate things?
TT: Our impression is that the Turkish side wants to proceed to the point where the terms of reference are agreed, but it wants the substantive negotiation after its electoral procedure. That doesn’t excite us and I think it’s wrong, but that’s how they think. Let us at least try to reach a successful conclusion on the terms of reference. This is not difficult if the necessary political will is demonstrated. The two leaders must stop setting terms and preconditions that are in conflict with the commitment they have undertaken to continue with the 2014 Joint Declaration, the convergences agreed so far and the Guterres Framework. It’s that simple.
Do you in some way agree with the three elements that the President of the Republic has also put forward, because the thorn with political equality hasn’t been overcome?
TT: AKEL from the time of the break down at Crans Montana was saying that the procedure with these three elements must resume. This has always been our position. Others were the ones who were setting terms and preconditions.
A good example you have mentioned is the issue of political equality. What is the reality? On the one hand the President is calling for a positive vote in the Cabinet, but one positive vote was convergence that had been recorded. As a matter of fact, it’s enough for one to read the President’s opening speech at Crans Montana and the proposals he tabled there. There is no way the position now expressed by the President can be accepted. Nor will the international community understand this position because the one vote of one of the 4 Turkish Ministers replaces the absolute veto of the Zurich agreements. There were no deadlock mechanisms. Now there will be.
You cannot say on the one hand that we are proceeding from where we had remained with the Guterres Framework and on the other hand to be saying that the one positive vote should be curbed. The President is outside the Framework here. But Akinci is also outside the Framework because he insists on one positive vote in all the low-level policy bodies. An informal convergence existed at Mont Peléran with regards low-level policy bodies, while the Guterres Framework provides for one positive vote in only some of these bodies.
This is what when we say that the acceptance of the Framework must be translated in practice. And this action would mean the President’s acceptance of one positive vote in the Ministerial Cabinet and the acceptance by Mr. Akinci of the Framework’s provision that he will have one positive vote not in all low-level policy bodies, but only where vital interests are affected.
There is in fact an assessment that certain forces and circles only support the Guterres framework verbally. This accusation was made by Mr. Akinci even with regards President Anastasiades.
TT: The blame game must stop on both sides. At a time when a last-ditch effort is underway for an agreement to be concluded on the terms of reference and for a negotiation procedure to resume, what is annoying the United Nations and the international community is precisely the ongoing blame-game. You recall the discussion that was taking place surrounding the Framework of June 30th or July 4th. The President has in the end accepted that there is only one existing Framework, namely the Framework of 30th June and now what remains is practical action. It is not in our interest to return to these issues. If Mr. Akinci considers the President does not accept the Framework in practice, he should test him
Everyone realizes that the three elements that are noted as terms of references are not mere titles. They are the substance too, and from that it will depend whether the procedure will proceed to meaningful negotiation in order to reach the very end.
TT: Exactly. The Guterres Framework itself is not six points as headings. There is a content in this Framework. Both sides have to accept it. For the time being both sides are diverging at the same time as they are saying that they accept this Framework.
Do you think we’ll go to the very end this time? And when we say to the end, do we mean an interim agreement or a final plan for a solution that will be put to a referendum…
TT: I can’t answer your question. What I can answer though, is that we are not going for an interim agreement. And that must be understood. The Guterres Framework adheres to the following logic: There are six core issues on the Cyprus problem. Two of them concern the international aspect and for that reason they’ll be discussed at a conference with the guarantor powers, the EU as an observer and the United Nations. Within the framework of this Conference, the position of both the UN Secretary-General and the two of the three guarantor forces and the EU was quite clear. Namely, that the guarantees should be terminated, as well as the intervention rights from the day after the solution, and that there should be a rapid withdrawal of troops. This was their position and no one can dispute it. What is under discussed is whether or not Turkey has accepted it.
So we will proceed with this procedure. But it is not an interim solution. The UN Secretary-General believes that if the six key points are agreed upon, then we will have what he calls a strategic understanding. This isn’t an interim agreement. It is not an Irish model where they reached a minimum agreement, started to implement it and new elements are added provided that they are agreed upon. Nothing will be implemented in our own case unless we arrive at an overall settlement. The UN Secretary-General’s reasoning is that if these six key issues are agreed upon, then much better preconditions are created for the rest of the issues to be agreed upon too.
If we reach an agreement on the terms of reference and substantive negotiations don’t start immediately, will this prevent Turkey from proceeding to impose new fait accompli?
TT: This is a question that cannot be answered. What we believe is that if all the obstacles are set aside and we declare that we are ready for meaningful negotiations, then for these negotiations to be meaningful and have a prospect they can’t be conducted whilst Turkey is engaging in provocative actions and fait accompli. Turkey knows that in this case it must find a way to suspend these actions. It may do so, it may not. However, Turkey follows the tactic of not wanting to be exposed during phases when substantive negotiations are underway. It has proved this in 2004 and 2017. If it doesn’t do so and if it doesn’t suspend its provocative actions and the fait accompli, then substantive talks can’t be conducted and we won’t be held responsible for that, but Turkey.