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Legalising Ercan not on the agenda: Kasoulides

9 June 2013

Speculation that permitting direct flights to Ercan in exchange for the return of Maras (Varosha) to its former inhabitants was quashed by South Cyprus Foreign Minister, Ioannis Kasoulides.

He added that this idea had not been raised by the Greek Cypriots and was not up for discussion. Kasoulides was speaking in an interview with CNA.

“Right now what we have is our proposal on this issue, which we believe will help the talks significantly if Famagusta is returned to its legal citizens. Once other issues come up we will look into them,” he added.

The Foreign Minister said that talks on the Cyprus problem will not resume from the beginning, adding that it will be made clear that the Greek Cypriot side is not bound by positions which President Nicos Anastasiades has already said he does not subscribe to, on the basis of the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

With regard to the situation in Turkey, the Foreign Minister said that the EU must be concerned about the reasons of this unrest in relation to the social level of Turkey as a candidate country for EU membership.

Responding to a question about the credibility of Alexander Downer, UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor on Cyprus, Kasoulides did not wish to comment in public on that subject.

He was asked about any possible personal interest on his part for the post of EU Cyprus Commissioner. The Minster pointed out that his priorities were to aid the President, as best as he could, to run the government successfully.

Kasoulides also said his government rejects the representation of Turkish Cypriots at the European Parliament with an observers’ status.

“We have looked into this issue and we will examine how as many Turkish Cypriots as possible will participate in the European elections through a joint electoral list that will allow them to be elected as well. Theoretically they can. Since there are 95 thousand Turkish Cypriot holders of Republic of Cyprus identities, if they want to participate in the elections they can rightfully elect a member of the European Parliament. Democratic procedures will apply according to the European acquis as in all countries,” the Minister noted.

Invited to comment on recent statements by the US Ambassador in Nicosia, that tensions in the region could damage America’s close ties with Israel and Turkey while derailing Noble’s gas exploration, Kasoulides said that he was being crystal clear on this matter and sent a message to anyone who would want to create tension during Noble’s activities with regard to the appraisal drilling as South Cyprus’ inalienable sovereign right.

“No one expects that we will create tension,” he noted, adding that this statement did not imply that there was any link between the Cyprus problem to the issue of natural gas.

Asked who will be the negotiator representing the Greek Cypriot side, since President Anastasiades has said that he will not perform that role, Kasoulides recalled that the National Council will convene on June 15 to decide the role of the negotiator and his links to the Council and at a later stage, the negotiator will be named.

“We have to prepare for the talks in the right way, with the help of advisors and other experts,” he added.

Replying to questions, Kasoulides said the government is not pleased with the increasing number of Greek Cypriots who are applying to the Immovable Property Commission, in the TRNC, nor is it happy about the low compensation paid to most of the applicants.

No property has been restored to its legal owner, he pointed out, adding that it would take too long to discuss the negative outcome of solving the property issue through this “illegal” commission at this time.

On the case of the town of Varosha – Maras (the fenced off area of Famagusta), on the east side, the Minister said it was too early to discuss confidence building measures with regard to the return of the fenced-off area of Famagusta to its “legal citizens”.

He identified any possible move, (such as the return of Maras) as a way to bridge the huge gap of confidence that exists between the two sides. He referred to past attempts by Turkey to operate flights to and from Ercan airport, which did not succeed.

 “Right now what we have is our proposal on this issue, which we believe will help the talks significantly if Famagusta is returned to its “legal inhabitants”. Once other issues come up we will look into them,” he added.

Asked about his forthcoming visit to London, Kasoulides said that he was invited by his British counterpart William Hague to a working lunch on Monday June 17, adding they will hold talks on the Cyprus problem, bilateral relations and European issues.

 “I believe that the British must be convinced that their interest should be directed to where it ought to be, in order to help break the deadlock in the Cyprus problem,”  he noted.

On possible Turkish Cypriot participation in the European Parliament, the Foreign Minister said:

“We are against the status of observers but we are in favour of Turkish Cypriot participation in the European elections in Cyprus. During previous European elections very few of them voted but that was their choice. They were offered this possibility, through constitutional changes.”

Asked about the current situation in Turkey, he said this unrest was triggered by various reasons. There is the reaction to the oppressive police behaviour, the protest of many people against measures to introduce Islamic norms in social life in Turkey, with the most recent one being the restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

He said that other people protest against authoritarian government policies, adding that many Alevis feel oppressed.

Kasoulides said that it is very early to draw conclusions as to where this social uprising could lead, adding that the EU must be alarmed by all this.

“I am sure that Prime Minister Erdogan will be obliged to show understanding to this kind of protests,” he added.

When asked if this situation could affect Cyprus, he said that he did not think so, unless it was used as an external danger with a view to unite and appease the Turkish public.

In regard to natural gas exploitation in the region, Kasoulides said hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean will certainly bring together Lebanon, Egypt and Israel, adding that South Cyprus will also contribute to this. He noted that all countries have the legal right to reap the benefits of their Exclusive Economic Zones.

Asked about the South’s role with regard to Syria and the Middle East, he said that as an EU member, Cyprus actively participates in the EU Foreign Affairs Council decision making process on such issues. Cyprus has agreements with many states and will also agree with other states to evacuate citizens if necessary.

Noble Energy is launching an appraisal drilling in block 12 of Cyprus’ EEZ. In 2011, initial data from Noble’s exploratory drilling indicated the existence of a natural gas reservoir, also known as “Aphrodite”, ranging from 5 to 8 trillion cubic feet (tcf) with a gross mean of 7 tcf.

Apart from Noble Energy, the Republic of Cyprus has also signed contracts with the ENI/KOGAS consortium for hydrocarbons exploration in blocks 2, 3 and 9, as well as with French TOTAL for blocks 10 and 11 in the EEZ.

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