‘We have issues with Greece that we do not agree on, such as the Aegean issue, the Cyprus issue that needs to be resolved,’ Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tells Kathimerini Cyprus in an interview. ‘However, as two neighbors we have developed our relationship in the economy, in the field of culture and tourism.’
Our meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu took place at the Palm Beach Hotel in Famagusta on September 9, the day he entered the fenced-off town of Varosha with Turkish-Cypriot “Foreign Minister” Kudret Ozersay. It was the first time a Turkish official had entered the city since it was captured by the Turkish Army on August 14, 1974. We engaged in an extensive discussion about the Cyprus issue and Greek-Turkish relations.
With the new government in Greece, what is your opinion on the future of Greek-Turkish relations?
It is true that there are many disagreements on many issues, as was the case during the time of the previous government. And of course we experienced a disappointment on the Cyprus issue. Despite the difficulties, in the previous period we managed our bilateral relations as best as possible.
Despite the major problems of the previous period?
Indeed, despite these problems. At that time, the coalition government had a minister of defense whom they themselves described as a spoiled child. I forgot his name...
Are you referring to Panos Kammenos?
Yes. I never met him. According to [former foreign minister Nikos] Kotzias, he was a good but spoiled child. His actions were very provocative. We approached these provocations mildly. We have issues with Greece that we do not agree on, such as the Aegean issue, the Cyprus issue that needs to be resolved. However, as two neighbors we have developed our relationship in the economy, in the field of culture and tourism. And we have always been ready to launch fact-finding talks. Our President [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] wanted this. And he pointed it out during his visit. But then that was forgotten.
In the meantime there were elections in Greece.
In an election period, Greek politicians are not as comfortable as we are and cannot touch such issues. We were also waiting on the Cyprus issue until the Greek elections were over.
How will you proceed on Greek-Turkish relations with the new Greek government?
We want to develop our relations with the new government. Our president was the first leader to congratulate [Kyriakos] Mitsotakis. And in this telephone conversation both sides reiterated their desire to develop the relationship further. Our president had meetings with Mr Mitsotakis before he assumed the duties of prime minister. And we have met, e.g. at the Munich Security Conference and other occasions. We know him personally. I have known the foreign minister, [Nikos] Dendias, since his years in the Council of Europe. We have a friendship and we can discuss all issues. In any case, we are not naive. The Greek-Turkish problems will not be resolved in a day. But what should we do? In matters of disagreement we must refrain from actions that could cause tension. And then we will start an honest debate to resolve these problems. Before I took over as foreign minister, that is, before the previous Greek government took office, there were important convergences on problem-solving and fact-finding contacts. Of course, the new government wanted to start from scratch. This was not possible. I’m talking about [former prime minister Alexis] Tsipras. At that time we made great efforts to avoid an escalation of tensions but despite everything there were tensions. Unfortunately, however, we were not able to conduct talks with the frequency we would like.
So the final step in resolving these problems was not taken?
No. However, we believe that with the new government, the right conditions will be created for this. If this political will emerges again, if it is reiterated at our president’s meeting with Prime Minister Mitsotakis, we will work together on the issue of implementation with both Mr Dendias and with the relevant bodies.
Is your first meeting arranged?
There is nothing planned yet. But we know that both sides have the desire for a meeting. There is need for a meeting. We are neighbors, there are several issues. We cannot reach any result unless we sit down and hold discussions. There is no problem with that.
The plan for Varosha
Before our interview you visited Varosha. What is your position on the issue?
Varosha has remained closed for a long time without having any function. Indeed, the area should be used. Many people, many companies have been adversely affected by the closure of the city. To resolve the issue, the government of the TRNC [the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state] has put forward a proposal on which a lot of work needs to be done. This is a beautiful place that I visited today for the first time. Not using the area serves no one. We support, on the basis of principles, this step by the TRNC government for Varosha. Once the necessary preparations are completed, the plan will be announced to the public.
Will the opening of a closed city under Turkish administration not cause problems for the Turkish side in the United Nations and on the international stage?
For us there is no problem. In this respect the important thing is to restore the rights of individuals.
Do you mean the rights of the users of a property?
Exactly. The important thing is to provide for the right to use a property. After all, many Greek Cypriots ask for this, they appeal to the Turkish-Cypriot property committee, despite the objections of their leadership. Everyone wants to take advantage of their property. This is a natural request, which we respect. Unfortunately, for years, because of the perpetuation of the problem, there are people who have been affected by this situation. We have always supported a solution and the Greek-Cypriot side rejects it. We are not responsible for perpetuating the problem.
Wasting time around a reunification deal for Cyprus ‘does not serve anyone’s interests’
Shortly before you arrived in Cyprus the terms of reference of the negotiations were discussed here. What is your view on this issue and especially on the future of a federal solution?
In the past we have held intensive negotiations. They were all about a federation. Unfortunately none of them has led us to success. Crans-Montana was the latest setback. After this failure there is a need to consider alternatives.
What are these alternative solutions?
Public opinion knows these. The most notable proposals on this issue came from the Greek-Cypriot leader [President Nicos Anastasiades] during bilateral talks. At some point he spoke of a two-state solution and at some other time of a decentralized federation. In this matter we do not understand what he actually wanted to say. He also referred to a confederation. Recently, accompanied by the foreign minister [Nikos Christodoulides] in New York, he referred to a confederation. From what we understand, he attended this meeting having done a good deal of preparation. He then referred to a loose federation. In any case, various proposals came forward. From the beginning of this discussion we have stated: Yes, the various options really need to be considered. However, we are not going to impose one of these different proposals. And at the same time we do not reject any of these options.
To make it clear, what exactly is the Turkish side proposing?
First, let’s determine what we will negotiate. Secondly, to create the framework, namely the document of the terms of reference of the negotiation. Finally, let’s move on to a deal that is focused on the outcome.
What is your position on the terms of reference?
Let us first clarify what we will negotiate at the informal quintilateral summit and then complete the content of the terms of reference.
That is, sorting out the solution model?
Yes. Federation? Confederation?
If the sides are ready then, yes, that could happen. We do not exclude any formulas. Also, we do not choose one of these solution models to impose it on the other side. This would not be correct anyway. We do not consider the imposition of a federal solution to be correct, the same way we do not agree with the imposition of the two-state idea or confederation from the outset. Everyone can have a different view. Some may claim that one option is more realistic or applicable. However, I would like to conclude: This time the process should be focused on the outcome, and in order for it to be so, the document of the terms of reference should be clear. It should not contain vague points.
What is the most important point here, what has led us to failure, something I have also observed in Crans-Montana? At the beginning of the process, on the issue of security and guarantees, on the first day of the conference, we took steps, made proposals. And this, despite the fact that security and guarantees were the last issue we would be willing to discuss. However, there has been no progress on issues related to political equality. Anastasiades backtracked from convergences that had been achieved on the island and in Switzerland. That is, he does not believe in political equality. This is a perception that does not want to share anything with the Turkish-Cypriot people. That is why we insist and say that this time we need to clarify from the outset what we are going to discuss.
Do you think that the Greek-Cypriot side in its entirety rejects political equality?
First he said yes to the rotating presidency. Then he rejected it. Today, Anastasiades says he does not accept political equality. This is how we view his latest statements. If we go through another negotiating process with this mentality today, we will lose another 50 years and have no result. That is, it is not right to start negotiating just to claim that we have begun negotiating. Let us come to a conclusion. We must come up with a solution that will satisfy both sides. Wasting time does not serve anyone’s interests.
From what you say, should we understand that we are heading to a quintilateral summit?
Towards an informal conference to clarify what we are going to negotiate. At this meeting, all sides need to clarify their position on what is to be negotiated.
Will the guarantees and security be in the foreground?
No. We will just discuss what we will negotiate next.
When will the issue of guarantees – which for Cyprus and Greece is of the utmost importance – be discussed?
It is an issue that is sensitive to everyone, also for the Turkish-Cypriot people. The Greek-Cypriot side states that it wants the end of guarantees. However, the Turkish-Cypriot side wants to keep them. As Turkey, we cannot take a passive attitude to this request. After all, the Turkish people’s view on the matter is well known. Given this, to think that security and guarantees are the only problem or to declare “zero security zero guarantees” is not a realistic view. This is not an issue that solely concerns the Greek-Cypriot side or Greece.
Who else is involved in the security issue?
If we take a look at our region we see that there are very important problems here that could affect Cyprus. Today, the Eastern Mediterranean is under the spotlight and everyone maintains a presence here. In the region we have the Israeli issue, the Middle East, Lebanon, the crisis in Syria and hydrocarbons. In the case of hydrocarbons, if there were no Turkish guarantees, the Greek-Cypriot side would never grant the Turkish-Cypriot side its rightful share. That is our view. Unfortunately, despite our repeated warnings, no steps have been taken towards the direction of allocating resources. Today we come across vague proposals that are not serious. In any case, if Turkish guarantees were not there, the rights of the Turkish-Cypriot people would have been violated. That is why, in my view, there is a need for guarantees today more than ever. Also, let me remind you that in Crans-Montana we showed the necessary flexibility on this issue but the other side backtracked. What does this show us? The problem is not about security and guarantees. Or, if you look at it from the standpoint of the Greek-Cypriot side, the problem of security and guarantees is not the only problem. The Greek-Cypriot side rejected the rotating presidency for no reason. And this, despite the fact that we all know that a final agreement will not be possible without an agreement on all issues. At a time when we were maintaining a flexible stance on guarantees, the other side gave up on the rotating presidency, on active participation and on the positive vote. This backtracking on the part of the Greek-Cypriot side is not related to security and guarantees.
Do you think that there is a perception problem regarding the nature of a solution?
Exactly, our problem is perception.
You mentioned the gas issue. What is Turkey’s official response to Anastasiades’ new proposal on natural gas?
It has no aspect that could be accepted. I express this very clearly. First, it sets out some conditions from the outset. And then he says, “Maybe I could give you a share.” Second, in this issue the interlocutor of the Greek-Cypriot side is the TRNC, namely the Turkish-Cypriot side. Who will the Greek-Cypriot side share the natural gas with? With the Turkish-Cypriot people. On the other hand, the proposal by the TRNC is reasonable, positive, creative and forms a framework for allocation of resources. It proposes to set up a committee. And the whole issue will be settled through this committee. Why does Anastasiades reject this proposal? For the following reasons: First, Anastasiades seeks recognition [of Cyprus] by Turkey. This is an impossible goal. Second, it is addressed to Turkey and ignores the Turkish-Cypriot side. Third, he calls for Turkey to end its work [offshore drilling in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone] by stating that it may in the future hand over a portion of the proceeds. This is a delaying tactic. We are not going to fall for this trap. It is not a serious proposal and it cannot be accepted.
If there is no agreement, will the tensions at sea continue?
We will continue our offshore work. Under no circumstances will we allow work on our continental shelf to be called into question. At the same time, we will continue our operations in the blocks authorized by the TRNC until a mutual solution to the issue is found. One cannot get anywhere with unilateral actions. This will violate the rights of the Turkish Cypriots. We are in favor of finding a mutually acceptable solution and a fair allocation of resources.
Does the proposal of the Turkish side, which you mentioned earlier, remain on the table?
It is still on the table. And foreign observers support it. We have a positive response from the international community and foreign governments, despite the fact that some, because of European Union solidarity, do not express this clearly.
There are reports that you disagree with Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on key issues of the Cyprus issue.
What kind of reports are these?
That your line and that of Akinci are different. Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides made relevant statements.
We maintain close cooperation with Akinci, the TRNC government and all parties. Of course on some issues there may be a different approach. What do we do in this case? We come to the island, we sit down and discuss developments together, with Akinci and with the leaders of all political parties. And sometimes they visit us. In any case, we discuss and end up with a common road map. Under no circumstances are our disagreements as clear-cut as those on the Greek-Cypriot side. On our side there is harmony and cooperation. And also, in terms of public opinion pressure, the TRNC government and the Turkish government are more comfortable than the government on the Greek-Cypriot side and in Greece. That is why we are able to be more flexible in negotiations. In any case, before criticizing us, the Greek-Cypriot side should take a look at the image it emits and the parties that have a negative attitude towards a solution. On the other hand, there is no question of facilitating or obstructing Akinci’s work. We, as Turkey, are a guarantor power and we take into account the demands of the Turkish-Cypriot people. What is important is not the opinion of the politicians or any one person but the common resultant of the Turkish side. We have managed to achieve this common cause. And in Geneva, in Crans-Montana, everyone observed that we maintain a partnership with the TRNC that everyone is jealous of. This cooperation will continue. The Turkish side has always coordinated different approaches into a common road map. We saw the positive results of this effort in Geneva and in Crans-Montana during the negotiation process. So, the foreign minister, what is his name?
Nikos should not exceed limits. Although I like him. He is a good kid.