By George Psyllides
AS THE government embarked on a damage limitation campaign following the UN Secretary General’s report, the leader of main opposition AKEL, a party seen as vital in any bid to reunify the island, urged President Nicos Anastasiades on Saturday to change his hardline approach because it only yielded “depressing results”.
For the past two years, Anastasiades had followed the policy demanded by hardliners DIKO, EDEK, EVROKO, and the Green party, Andros Kyprianou said.
“And what are the results? The results are depressing,” he told the state broadcaster.
Anastasiades lashed out at the UN and the USA during a television interview on Thursday, following the publication of UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s UNFICYP report, which the president described as an effort to force his return to the negotiating table while Turkey continued to violate Cyprus’ sovereign rights.
The government’s main objection was the report’s failure to take a stance on Turkey’s violations of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by Turkey, and a reference to Turkish Cypriot isolation – a subject that has not come up for several years.
Daily Alithia reported that the isolation reference was included as a response to the moving of the EU Task Force for the Turkish Cypriot community from the Enlargement Directorate to the Regional Policy Directorate, a move which gives the Greek Cypriot side a say over the funding.
The UN has shrugged off the criticism.
“The UN Secretary General fully backs the work of his special envoy Espen Barth Eide and stands by his report. As in many cases – in general terms – reports of the Secretary General elicit reactions from one side or another. There is no reason for us to comment on the reactions to the SG’s report,” UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Kyprianou, the leader of the island’s second-biggest party after ruling DISY, urged Anastasiades to reconsider his tactics suggesting that each passing day brought Cyprus closer to partition.
Anastasiades pulled out of the talks in October after Turkey dispatched a research vessel to carry out seismic surveys inside the island’s EEZ where oil companies are carrying out hydrocarbon exploration.
Earlier this month Anastasiades attempted to put things back on track by announcing he agreed to hydrocarbons being discussed in the peace talks. Yet days later, Ankara issued a new NAVTEX (navigational telex) reserving areas in the eastern Mediterranean for exploration – parts of Cyprus’ EEZ among them – from January 6 to April 6.
In an interview with private Mega television on Thursday evening, Anastasiades said he had received promises from Ban, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and US Vice President Joe Biden, the Russian foreign minister and even Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, that Turkey was ready to go ahead with talks at the start of October as agreed.
On top of that, the ambassador of a big power – he did not name – had told him that before the start of the talks, Turkey was going to lift the embargo on Cyprus-flagged vessels.
“Instead, five days later a NAVTEX was issued,” he said. “It is the first time I say it, but patience has its limits.”
Anastasiades said he would not “bow, under any circumstances, and be dragged into talks under threat or blackmail”.
Turkey says it is acting on behalf of Turkish Cypriots, who also have rights. The government said Turkish Cypriots can enjoy the benefits after a solution and refuses to include them in decision-making.
Analyst Hubert Faustmann suggested Anastasiades was upset because the Americans did not deliver on their promise. And now he was also faced with domestic criticism.
“He made a move, which was not reciprocated,” said Faustmann, an associate professor of international relations at the University of Nicosia.
However, the core of the issue were the hydrocarbons and the international community “sees a dangerous escalation in the situation”, hence the pressure, he added.
Neither side was backing down but it would be an illusion for the Greek Cypriots to believe they can exploit hydrocarbon reserves without a solution, Faustmann said.
He did not rule out Turkey putting its own drill in Cyprus’ EEZ at some stage.
A former senior government official echoed that view.
“Turkey will not allow exploitation,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
And who would fund any project linked to the endeavour with the threat looming, he added.
The former official said the president’s reaction to the UNSG report was excessive and suggested that he must change his strategy.
“When the likes of EDEK, DIKO, and George Lillikas agree with you, it means you are doing it wrong,” he said.
“The international community is tired of Cyprus. Who will defend you when no one thinks you’re fully right?”
The official said the hydrocarbons should be on the table, just like citizenship, territory, and so on.
Kyprianou said Anastasiades could have scored points by proposing the creation of a fund to put in the Turkish Cypriot share of hydrocarbons funds to be accessed in the event of a solution; he could also ask Turkey to help solve the problem in return for discussing delineation of the EEZ, supply of natural gas and even building a pipeline.
“The option is not to shift to a tougher position; a tougher position will simply isolate us further,” Kyprianou said.