A solution to the Cyprus issue is imperative, says the country’s former foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides, warning that allowing the situation to continue as is is no longer an option for Cypriots. There is no plan B, he says, expressing concerns about the “uncontrollable” Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the fact that “no one has the power to rein him in.”
During his lengthy career Kasoulides has shown all the qualities of a statesman. His dignity and modesty have made a difference. He never pandered to populist sentiment and has always enjoyed the respect of his peers. His diplomatic experience as head of the Foreign Ministry for a total of 11 years during different periods and under different presidents, as well as his nine-year stint at the European Parliament, make him an authoritative presence and a valuable voice of reason which can prove useful to both Greeks and Cypriots.
Do you foresee a new push for a solution and, if so, on what will it depend?
There has to be a push and there can be in the sense that it will not be a new effort but a continuation from where we left off [at Crans-Montana] in Switzerland. A lot was accomplished in that most recent effort, mainly the six points presented by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as a framework for a solution that would lead to a normal Cypriot state – without guarantor powers, rights of intervention, and ultimately without Turkish troops.
How likely is such a solution?
You cannot embark on any effort trying to measure its chances of success. The Cyprus issue is not a dice roll, but the dilemma that Cypriots once had – either we solve it or we stay as is – is no longer valid, because we cannot stay as we are. A solution is imperative.
Is it, perhaps, time for a plan B?
I am unequivocally opposed to such an idea. Those who have ulterior motives try to circumvent Plan A in order to lead us in a different direction. They are on the Turkish side. What would the alternative be for us? Two states? Turkey’s demands in the case of a formal division, moreover, would be more onerous that an agreed federation and it would not mark the end of anything, but the beginning of new adventures. The occupied north is unsustainable, so we would basically be sharing a border with Turkey on the island.
How do the two communities view the possibility of reunification?
Today’s generation of Cypriots has suffered enormous losses from the invasion and the 43-year occupation, so they need to look at the issue rationally rather than emotionally. Our generation needs to stop thinking about the issue in selfish terms, but to put the generations of our children and grandchildren above all else. These are the ones we need to protect from having the same fate as us. A solution would give them some guarantees in terms of security. The rest is of secondary importance and negotiable. If both communities and the three guarantor powers agree in principle to Guterres’s six points – as they have already claimed to have done – then all that’s left is negotiations regarding implementation, which is a process that can be wrapped up in a few months.
Is ExxonMobil going to proceed with natural gas exploration in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone?
Exxon’s drilling is slated to begin in the fall. Let’s hope we’ll see some progress in reunification talks. There is a disparity concerning Turkish claims in Exxon’s Block 10 and in Block 3 where Eni was recently prevented from drilling. According to Turkey, Block 10 belongs to Egypt, as it believes the two countries share the Mediterranean down the middle because, it says, as an island Cyprus has no right to a continental shelf. No one can predict what Erdogan will do when it comes to drilling. What happens will depend on the US government. Is it prepared to protect American interests with the presence of US warships and to show the same determination as France did when Total started drilling in Block 11?
In any case, Cyprus has no choice but to implement the energy plan as it is. All the opposition or threats have come from Turkey, which is accountable under international law.
How precarious is the situation right now?
Turkey under Erdogan is uncontrollable. The United States and Russia are running behind Ankara, which is playing games with both, to the extent that neither has any influence over it anymore. The situation has spun so far out of control that Turkey can impose its will on Cyprus’s EEZ with the threat of force and no one has the power to rein it in. We have already seen how lackluster the international community’s response has been. Even our tourism depends on its goodwill. They are held back, of course, by the fact that if our tourism is hurt then, that of the Turkish Cypriots will be too.
How much influence does the European Union have?
The European Union today has more influence over Turkey because of its almost complete commercial dependence on the bloc. The question, though, is to what extent would our partners push the envelope if this were not in their interest?
What have been some of the highlights of your career?
There have been so many. The decision of the European Council meeting in Copenhagen for Cyprus’s EU accession was the crowning achievement of my first six-year stint as foreign minister. There’s my first visit to Egypt two months after the popular uprising led by the Egyptian Army, and the unlimited support we gave it. That was the first visit by an EU foreign minister and a deliberate move after the Morsi government, which had been under the influence of their ideological peers in Turkey. It was also the visit that gave rise to plans for the trilateral cooperation between Greece, Egypt and Cyprus. We built the framework of a regional foreign policy that gave Cyprus a foreign policy identity, a stronger voice in the European Union and the status to expand it significantly with other countries in the region, all the way to the Gulf. Two days later, that visit was followed by a trip to Egypt by Greece’s then foreign minister, Evangelos Venizelos.
What was your experience from cooperation with Greece?
My upbringing and my education were very much centered on Greece.
When Cyprus and Greece are united in a common purpose they can achieve a lot. When they are not, it can be disastrous.
I firmly believe in the principle that Athens is the metropolis of Hellenism. This is one of the reasons why I had an excellent working relationship with all my colleagues in Greece, forming friendships based on mutual respect. Together we achieved Cyprus’s accession to the EU, step by step with Theodoros Pangalos, George Papandreou and, of course, the late Yiannos Kranidiotis. My friendship with Nikos Kotzias is very close and I believe it has also been productive.
The results have been quantifiable. By joining forces – and breaking the taboo that we need to maintain distinct foreign policies so that it does not appear that Cyprus’s independence is being undercut – we have achieved a comprehensive regional policy, while also supporting each other inside the EU and in other international fora. We follow Greece on issues of Balkan policy and Greece strengthens our policies regarding the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Nikos Kotzias’s insistence on shifting the focus of talk from domestic issues to security is correct and a godsend.