Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades believes that the next few days will be crucial in terms of the initiatives and specific actions taken by the European Union and the United States toward Turkey, with the aim of preventing a possible crisis. He also clarifies that instead of a catastrophic scenario, Nicosia opts for diplomacy, the weapons of international law and Cyprus’ status as an EU member-state, as dictated by patriotic realism and rationalism, and not by a rhetoric of empty slogans.
In this interview with Kathimerini, Anastasiades also acknowledges that if Turkey has upgraded its role and has a lead in Libya, it is precisely because of the inability of the EU to express a decisive policy.
Mr President, some circles regard your position that a solution through militarization would mean the end of Cypriot Hellenism as an unconditional surrender. What is you response?
What I had expressed was an assessment of the options offered by a small country like Cyprus in order to effectively deal with Turkish aggression and the subsequent dangers. Not only does this not constitute a “surrender,” as some Turkish media arbitrarily concluded, but it instead indicates a determination to resist, through choice rather than through a disastrous scenario, through the choice of diplomacy and the weapons offered by international law and the status of the country as a member-state of the European Union. This is dictated by patriotic realism and rationalism and not a rhetoric of empty slogans. Besides, from the Turkish invasion onward, the unanimous position of the respective governments of Cyprus and Greece, as well as of all political forces, was that the resolution of the Cyprus problem cannot be achieved through military means, but by opting for dialogue on the basis of international law. It is precisely through the prudent policy pursued that the Republic of Cyprus has joined the EU, despite Turkey’s threats, and is now European territory. At the same time, we may not choose militarization, and rightly so, but we have never abandoned the reinforcement of our defensive armor. On the contrary, today we have a strong deterrent force that is constantly being strengthened and modernized.
Turkish declarations of plans to drill off Crete are sparking fears of increased tension. What is your assessment, also as regards the level of understanding and cooperation between Athens and Nicosia?
Our cooperation with the Greek government is excellent and multileveled. There is coordination through the choice of dialogue to resolve any differences that arise as a result of Turkish aggression. Intense diplomatic efforts by both the Greek and Cypriot governments have mobilized both the interest and concerns of both Europe and the United States. The next few days are crucial as regards initiatives by the EU and the United States to prevent a possible crisis.
Do you expect any specific actions?
Specific actions toward Turkey.
It appears that Turkey has upgraded its role in Libya in relation to others, either NATO allies or stakeholders.
There is no doubt that Turkey, by violating international law, seeks to gain ground and gain a lead over the others who have significant interests in Libya. I do not think that France’s reaction is coincidental, but at the same time I cannot overlook the fact that if Turkey has upgraded its role and has taken precedence in Libya, it is precisely because of the EU’s inability to express a decisive policy.
We expected European sanctions that would have a significant impact on Turkey a year ago, but this was not accomplished. You also said recently that German interests are preventing a dynamic response to Turkish challenges. Ultimately, do we have too many expectations of the EU?
The first timid steps have been taken by the EU. We went from verbal support to the imposition of sanctions for the first time. Despite my observations that interests are hindering bolder decisions, I still expect that Europe has no choice but to be more active in its support, especially in intervening to prevent Turkey’s expansionist aspirations.
Should we expect further sanctions?
This is something that we are seeking but that also arises from reality itself. There is a violation of international law, a violation of Turkey’s pre-accession commitments. As such, and given the ease with which the EU has imposed sanctions on Russia – and rightly so – over the events in Ukraine, it cannot continue to watch Turkey’s threats becoming more intense through actions that increase the risk of a crisis. It cannot remain indifferent to the actions of a country that is a candidate for membership and that are detrimental to two member-states. Therefore, and taking into account the strong objections we have lodged, we expect further EU sanctions.
In the meantime, Turkey continues drilling undisturbed, the Cyprus issue is on hold and the occupied territories are being integrated with every day that passes. What could serve as a lever to get Turkey to sit at the negotiating table?
There is no other way than the implementation of international law, through a variety of sanctions that increase the cost for Turkey of its provocative actions.
How do you respond to critics who say that you tried various angles for the Cypriot problem and that we missed an opportunity at Crans-Montana?
It was during my presidency that the EU participated for the first time in the dialogue for the solution of the Cyprus problem. It was during my presidency that maps were submitted for the first time. I remind you that Turkey sat down at the table for the first time to find a solution to the Cyprus problem and also that convergence was achieved on numerous issues. Let me also remind you that it was my recommendation to Mr [Mustafa] Akinci that these convergences be recorded and that we give a joint press conference to convey to the world what exactly we agreed on, after we observed that what was agreed on was not being conveyed precisely, causing concerns in both communities. Unfortunately, Mr Akinci refused to give a press conference and to record the convergences. I had asked for a “triptych.” We prepared it and presented it, and the Turkish-Cypriot side said that they would rely on our text. They did this so as not to give theirs in writing, a practice they followed in Crans-Montana. So, on our part we did all that was humanly possible to show goodwill and determination to move forward with a solution. If this was not achieved, it is due to Turkey’s interventions and the inability of the Turkish-Cypriot side to meet its obligations through dialogue in Crans-Montana. I am saddened that some – misled by deliberate leaks from United Nations circles – are talking about other issues.
Public opinion polls indicate that you enjoy significant support from a large part of the public. Isn’t that a reason to reconsider your decision?
No. The point is not to enjoy popularity but to know when to enter and when to leave politics. My position not to run for a third term is final and irrevocable. You can give whatever you have to give in two terms. I hope that I will enjoy the same popularity with my departure. This will be the best scenario because it will mean that I have achieved certain goals that please the people.