There is no link between the referendum regarding an executive presidency in Turkey and the Cyprus negotiations, President Mustafa Akinci has said.
“The Turkish government has told us that there is no relationship between the constitutional referendum process and the peace talks,” Akinci told Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet’ on Monday.
Greek Cyprus is attempting to give the impression that Turkish Cypriots cannot act before an April referendum in Turkey and that the north will be more likely to compromise after the vote, he said.
“We are telling the Greek Cypriots ‘we are looking to guarantee our equality, security and freedom, so don’t expect our or Turkey’s position on these fundamental issues to change after the referendum,” he said.
Emphasising the need to keep the momentum of the negotiation strong, Akinci said that following planned meetings in March and April, all sides will gain an idea within three months, as to whether or not the process will lead to a solution.
“It has been half a century that we have been talking about a solution. The guarantor states have come together for the first time. Never before have we talked in such depth on issues like territory, security and guarantees. These three months are critical,” said Akinci.
Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots feel less motivation to join the EU, however energy cooperation could be the main incentive for a solution to the Cyprus problem, President Akinci said. Although natural gas finds in Cyprus initially appeared to be less than those near Israel, Akinci said new discoveries in Egypt’s Zohr field show that the island’s natural gas potential was higher than it first appeared.
“In this case, the most feasible way to carry Israeli and Cypriot gas would be via Turkey to Europe. A similar scheme is valid for electricity grids and water. There are feasibility studies being done, funded by the EU, to connect Israel’s electricity system via Crete and Greece to Europe. But that would be way too expensive compared to Turkey, which is already connected to the European electricity grid. Similarly, it has now been proven that water can be brought from Turkey to the island. The potential could be increased and water could be provided to the whole of the island. Instead of tension, we could breed a culture of cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean. And Turkey should not miss the opportunity to be part of this energy corridor on its southern flank,” said Akinci.
The Greek Cypriots are also suffering economic losses as they cannot use Turkish airspace and ports, meaning that should also provide a motivation to Greek Cyprus, according to Akinci. “In the past, the working class used to raise its voice for peace. Now, the business communities from both sides of the island [are calling for peace], while business people from Turkey and Greece have established a Nicosia forum and meet from time to time. They are giving positive messages for a solution. That’s a new development,” said Akinci.
A solution would also be good for Turkish-EU relations, he said. “The EU’s foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, told me that a [Cyprus solution] would not be a game changer, it would be the game changer,” he said.
Regarding the vexed question of guarantees, Akinci said they were looking for formulas that would provide security for one side without creating the perception of a threat for the other side. “I think the UN has an important role to play here. I think it is time for the UN to begin shuttle diplomacy,” he added.
Akinci said his idea was to keep the guarantee system and review it in 15 years, as that would provide enough time for Turkish Cypriots to test the functioning of the new federal system and see for themselves whether a Turkish Cypriot could indeed become president. The Turkish Cypriot side insists on a rotating presidency, but the proposal has not been accepted by the Greek Cypriot side, leading to a stalemate in negotiations.
Akinci was asked questions about the highly sensitive issue of the rights of citizens from the Turkish Republic living on the island, The 2004 Annan plan had foreseen a quota of 40,000 Turkish citizens who had acquired northern Cypriot citizenship being granted the citizenship of a united Cyprus, he said.
“Currently, we made the Greek Cypriots accept that everybody independent of their ethnicity who carries the ID of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus will acquire the citizenship of a united Cyprus. The number we were told by the Interior Ministry was 220,000, and we have conveyed this number to the Greek Cypriot side,” said Akinci.
When it comes to the rights of Turkish citizens who work in north Cyprus, Akinci said: “They will continue to work. But they will continue to come after getting a work permit, in line with the needs of the economy. These permits will be given by the federal government’s committees where we [Turks] will also be present,” he said.
Akinci also elaborated on the issue of the rights of Turkish citizens living in the island concerning four freedoms: free movement of goods, services, people and capital.
“The issue of Turkish citizens enjoying similar rights to Greek citizens on the island is an issue that we and Turkey attach great importance to. At any rate, we are not talking, for instance, about the free movement of 80 million Turks. That’s not what Turkey is asking for. We are looking for formulas for those who will come to the island to reside and which will not be different than the rights of the Greeks residing on the island,” President Akinci said.
“Anyway, we have informed Ankara on the discussions of these issues and we are in very close cooperation,” he added.