The necessity of a long lasting solution to the Cyprus problem is slowly dawning on the Greek Cypriots, says TRNC Foreign Minister Ozdil Nami.
Speaking in a recent interview with Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet’, Nami said that the South has hesitated for a long time about signing a final settlement, however, they have come to realise that the only way forward is to find a solution. “It may be a better idea to tackle the real problem and reunite Cyprus and start benefiting from what peace can offer,” he added.
Nami went on to warn against accepting the situation as it remains on the island today. “Time passes, our job is getting more difficult, not easier,” he said.
Nami said that the two sides are engaged in a process that will create a joint statement which both leaders will read at their first meeting. This will herald the beginning of a new round of negotiations that will include past efforts with the aim of establishing a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation in Cyprus with political equality for both Turkish and Greek Cypriots.
Asked what the remaining hurdles were, which have blocked an agreement, Nami stated that:
“It is the final phase. The Greek Cypriot leader put forward some concepts as vital issues for him. These included the issues of single sovereignty, single citizenship and a single international identity. The Turkish Cypriot side counteracted by saying that though it is true these concepts are important, concepts like political equality, internal citizenship and residual powers are also very important. At the stage we are at, we have managed to overcome difficulties we faced and created a common language on these issues. Having said that, both sides are trying to inject a few sentences that will reassure their voters that the deal has not jeopardized their well-known positions. I think it is natural that both leaders are attempting to do this; it is also natural that some suggestions while being accepted some may not be. In particular, the Turkish Cypriot side attaches a lot of importance that after our federation is established, the bitter experiences of the past when Turkish Cypriots were kicked out of the republic they co-founded will not be repeated. From our point of view, we would like this to be addressed in a clear fashion.
Greek Cypriots have their own needs for clarification; they are afraid that any wording that may indicate a potential for two independent states be formed with a settlement is dangerous so they are acting very cautiously to avoid any sentencing to that direction; so the final touches are being done right now.”
Nami was asked how he rated the chances for a settlement and replied that the potential existed in the coming days to finalise the statement and it was on the brink of completion. He said that it would be an historic document which addresses many of the “controversial issues” that have been the source of dispute between both sides. This was “good news”, he said but it also carried the weight of responsibility on both sides to bring the discussions to a successful conclusion. If not, it would demonstrate to the United Nations that neither sides was able to solve its own problems as regards the agreement. He added that he felt that the spirit was there, on both sides to make an agreement and that was what he was counting on.
When asked what had changed since past negotiations, Nami replied that he felt that similar opportunities in the past had been missed, that this was yet another “golden opportunity” and Cypriots would only have themselves to blame if they let it slip through their hands.
Hurriyet commented that the Turkish public had little confidence in the Greek Cypriot’s desire and will to achieve a solution because they are already EU members and were better off.
“They are not well off; they have lost almost half of their bank deposits, their pension funds have evaporated. Without a comprehensive settlement, it will take them 20 years to fully recover. Youth unemployment is reaching 40 percent; it is a dire situation. Although they attained EU membership, their aspiration to use that membership to the detriment of Turkish Cypriots has turned to be futile expectation. At least on these two counts, there is a realization that rather than chasing these empty dreams, it may be a better idea to tackle the real problem and reunite Cyprus and start benefiting from what peace can offer.
On the other hand, we have the natural resources being discovered around Cyprus. The best way; the way with the least cost and risk would be to sell it through Turkey and the only way to achieve that will be through finding a solution to the Cyprus problem. Energy can be one of the game-changers if handled properly; it can be an incentive for a solution.”
Asked about the terms of the agreement, Nami said that there would be no surprises and that a very important UN body of work existed; there are guiding principles, and some room to manoeuvre. Negotiations will be built on what has already been agreed upon in the past. Therefore the substance of the agreement will already be familiar to everyone. Referring to the fact that he represented a coalition government, Nami said that this had been helpful in the negotiations since its makeup is a socialist government headed by a right wing President. The message being conveyed is that politicians of all spectra are in accord with the substance of the agreement.
Commenting that Nami was from a younger generation, he was asked how the passage of time had affected negotiations.
Nami replied that it was a mixed state of affairs and that the younger generations were not tainted by the same bitter experiences. However, as time has passed property development has boomed and that could make territorial adjustments and compensation issues more problematic in the future.
He concluded that it was not a good idea to play for time and leave it to future generations to sort out the problem. “Each generation gets more used to the status quo,” he said. In which case it become increasingly difficult to convince people to change their point of view. The time had come to act.