A failure of the informal talks on Cyprus in Geneva would be a negative development for all parties involved in the process, the island’s Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides has told Kathimerini in an interview ahead of the April 27-29 meeting.
Christodoulides says that Nicosia is in a position to know that the administration of Joe Biden in the US has informed Turkey that a two-state solution for Cyprus is not acceptable.
After a lengthy discussion on the European Union’s role in the informal talks, Christodoulides says that the bloc will not have a formal presence at the meeting.
“International actors,” he says, however, “who may not be an official participant in this informal conference in Geneva can, in this confluence of events, play a decisive part and contribute to achieve positive developments.” Christodoulides also discusses remarks about a confederation and a two-state solution, rejecting a change in the model to settle the issue and highlighting that the only basis for a solution is that of a bizonal bicommunal federation. “A confederation requires recognizing a separate state in the occupied territories, which by extension, would derecognize the Republic of Cyprus.”
Since the talks at the Swiss Alpine resort of Crans-Montana, Nicosia has placed particular emphasis on the importance of power and political equality. Asked about what powers could be devolved to the constituent states, he characteristically replies that it would be irresponsible for him to discuss the particulars of this matter publicly before the meeting in Geneva. “I can, however, reveal that the president is ready to act in the framework of negotiations that will take part in Geneva, while a more general answer to your question’s philosophy, what I would like to highlight, is that this approach does not go beyond the agreed solution framework of a bizonal, bicommunal federation.”
Should we assume that the informal talks in Geneva are destined to fail?
If we take into account the public statements in favor of a two-state solution and Turkey’s unacceptable behavior also toward the Turkish-Cypriot population – which was manifested again recently with regard to the teaching of the Quran in schools in the occupied territories – it is natural to be pessimistic about the outcome of the informal talks in Geneva. Nevertheless, I believe it would be a mistake to travel to Geneva thinking that a failure is inevitable.
But is there really room to be optimistic?
Looking back at the negotiations on the Cyprus dispute from 1976 one would conclude that on many occasions we arrived at similar meetings thinking, in the back of our minds, that the talks would fail; and during the course of the talks we had to adjust our position as the Turkish side turned up with a different position than the one it had previously expressed in public. In other words, yes, the available information gives no cause for optimism but we should by no means prejudge the outcome of the informal talks since a failure, I believe, would be regrettable for all sides. Meanwhile, and without seeking on our side to shift the blame for a potential failure [of the talks], we ought to do whatever is possible within the limits of our established positions for a positive outcome to emerge. In this context, I can say that our side has processed a number of scenarios that could play out during the informal meeting.
Should we assume that the scenarios that you have prepared for include the possibility of a surprise from Turkey?
As I mentioned earlier, I do not rule out such a possibility and I expressed the need for us to be prepared for all possible scenarios. Certainly, however, I am not in a position to be aware of how Turkey will approach the talks. I, particularly in the present circumstances, am more interested in how we will approach [the talks] and in the need to be prepared for any scenario that may emerge at this informal meeting.
Recent developments are disconcerting. Nikos Dendias had a tense press conference with Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, the Turkish foreign minister reiterated his call for a two-state solution in Cyprus, and Turkish-Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar has also been pushing in the same direction. How can Cyprus respond to all that?
All the developments that you mentioned are certainly not positive and they no doubt worry and concern us. At the same time, we should not discard, among other facts, the reactions in the occupied territories, which are constantly on the rise, against Turkey’s policy regarding the Turkish Cypriots as well as against Tatar’s approach to a Cyprus settlement. Nor would I disregard the clear position of the European Union against the idea of a two-state solution in Cyprus as well as its unambiguous position that decisions pertaining to a positive agenda in Turkey’s ties with the EU also hinge on developments regarding the Cyprus issue. Similarly, I would not underestimate the shared position of the UN Security Council on this objective and particularly the position of the new US administration, which, according to our knowledge, has been passed on to Turkey and which can be summed up in that a two-state solution is unacceptable.
Do you think this is enough to produce positive developments in resolving the Cyprus issue?
I have said that a failure of the informal meeting would be a negative development for all parties involved; I really do believe that the Cyprus issue can only be resolved if all parties involved realize that a development of this sort would serve their interests more than they are served today, with this unacceptable state of affairs. I also believe that if all sides think in a reasonable manner and take into account the unpredictability of the existing state of affairs, and how more general objectives can be achieved in a more optimal way, they would easily conclude that a settlement of the Cyprus issue would be in everyone’s interest.
Should we place our hopes exclusively on the United Nations?
Without doubt the UN has a decisive role, as it is the depository of the framework of the talks that will be held in Geneva that cannot be about anything apart from decisions on the issue of Cyprus. At the same time, the decision of the secretary-general [Antonio Guterres] to convene this conference amid this unprecedented pandemic – in fact his first multiparty discussion during the pandemic period – illustrates his readiness and commitment to solving the Cyprus issue. However, the UN is inherently unable to impose any decision, while I think that international actors who may not be an official participant in this informal conference in Geneva can, in this confluence of events, play a decisive part and contribute to achieve positive developments.
We focused on the role of the EU and that it will provide a shield against the two-state solution that Ankara will propose. What will the role of the EU be during this informal meeting?
We did in fact focus emphatically on the role that the EU can play, not just because the Republic of Cyprus is and will continue to be a member-state following a potential solution to the Cyprus issue, not just because the experience of the last round of negotiations proved that the active involvement of the EU was of paramount importance in achieving, for the first time, important convergences for the benefit of the entirety of the Cypriot people, not because the Halloumi affair proved the power of the acquis communautaire as a tool that can bring the two communities closer and forge paths of mutually beneficial cooperation and coexistence, but also because in the current situation we are well aware of Turkey’s desire and need to initiate the process of negotiations to update its customs union with the EU.
Taking all of this into account – as well as the fact that several EU member-states want, in service of their own national goals, to strengthen relations between Europe and Turkey, which undoubtedly depends on solving the Cyprus issue – I think it is clear that the EU, among others, can, with its involvement, help all involved parties realize the benefits that can be reaped by solving the Cyprus issue, something which, as I mentioned above, is a requirement for any positive result.
Thus, regardless of the physical presence or lack thereof of the EU at the table in Geneva, its role in these events is decisive. It was the EU I had in mind when I said earlier that while international actors may not officially be part of the informal conference in Geneva, they can still play a decisive part in achieving positive results.
The question of powers
After decades of negotiations and talks, this time we are emphasizing the question of executive authority. This talk of a decentralized federation which we are promoting as a compromise – what kind of authority does it gave the states?
The issue of the authority and powers of a central government and the federated states is undoubtedly an important chapter in the effort to solve the Cyprus issue, since it touches on the ability of the state to function, but it is definitely not the only chapter, and I believe it is not able by itself to create the circumstances for positive results in Geneva.
For example, the issue of territorial readjustment and the chapter of guarantees are of particular importance and, in my opinion, more decisive for the result that will be achieved. May I remind you that the UN secretary-general on June 4, 2017, following a joint meeting in New York with the president of the Republic of Cyprus and the leader of the Turkish-Cypriot community, had publicly stated the opinion, with which I completely agree, that any development in negotiations on the chapter of safety and guarantees is that which will largely decide the extent of how far we will get in an overall attempt to solve the Cyprus issue.
As for your question as to which powers can be devolved to a state level, you realize that it would be irresponsible on my part to talk on specifics, especially in public, before the meeting in Geneva. I can, however, reveal that the president is ready to act in the framework of negotiations that will take place in Geneva, while a more general answer to your question’s philosophy, what I would like to highlight, is that this approach does not go beyond the agree solution framework of a bizonal, bicommunal federation.
Bicommunal bizonal federation
There are certain groups of people that consider the compromise solution put forward from our side is a loose federation, verging on a confederation. Is a confederation a red line?
There is a clear distinction between a federation in general and a confederation. A confederation requires recognizing a separate state in the occupied territories, which by extension, would derecognize the Republic of Cyprus. You understand that something like this is unacceptable, as [it would mean] solving the Cyprus issue on the basis of two states. The proposal by the president of the republic for a decentralized federation was put forward, among other reasons, to ensure on the one hand the functionality of the state, but also to respond to concerns by Turkish Cypriots of a potential supposed attempt by Greek Cypriots to impose their views on – in a federation – issues that involve the Turkish community. We are always talking of a bicommunal bizonal federation.
What will be a success for our side? A new conference over the summer or possible clarity that we are talking within the framework for a bizonal bicommunal federation?
What we would hope to achieve from the conference in Geneva would be an agreement to restart discussions from where we left them in Crans-Montana, aiming to solve the Cyprus issue based on an agreed solution framework. Something of the sort could be achieved with a conference on Cyprus in the form of Crans-Montana, picking up from where discussions ended in the summer of 2017 and taking into account the results of the meeting of the UN secretary-general with the two leaders in Berlin in November 2019.