US Ambassador to Cyprus #AmbJohnKoenig interview about the latest developments at the Cyprus problem

(English transcript)

Interviewers: Esra Aygin, Basaran Duzgun and Huseyin Ekmekci

Interviewer:   What contribution is the U.S. going to make toward overcoming the deadlock in the negotiations right now?

Ambassador:  First let me say thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak.  I really do appreciate it.  It’s been a little while since I’ve spoken with Havadis, and I’m glad to have the opportunity again.  We very much want to see talks resume, and this of course will require probably a reduction of tensions in the region, so what we are doing is working closely with UN negotiator Eide to support his effort to establish the conditions that will enable the talks to resume.

Interviewer:   His last proposal has been rejected by the two sides, and he said he is not willing to come up with another proposal anytime soon, so where do we go from here?

Ambassador:  I think everyone needs to recognize that the two parties themselves are first and foremost responsible for finding a way to the table.  Both realize that the only way to make progress towards a Cyprus settlement is to engage in negotiations.  Espen Eide has been working to develop ideas that would ease the path to the negotiation table for the two sides.  He will continue, I think, to work on that effort, but for the moment he has asked the sides to reflect on what they themselves need to do in order to continue negotiations.

Interviewer:   It seems like the sides are not willing to take any steps until April of next year.  At least, in the north there is the election period, then Anastasiades has health issues, and in the north the negotiator was recently changed.  What impact will these have?

Ambassador:  Those are factors that of course will need to be considered by the sides and others who are interested in resuming negotiations, and perhaps they will have an impact on the timing, but I will just reiterate what we and others have said many times before, that time is not on the side of those who want to find a Cyprus settlement, and therefore it is incumbent on everyone to do their best to restart talks as soon as possible. 

Interviewer:   Don’t you think the elections are going to influence the talks process?

Ambassador:   I can only say in that regard what I heard last Friday from Dr. Eroglu, and that was shortly after he announced that he would be a candidate, and what Dr. Eroglu told me was that he is intends to devote himself to pursuing the negotiations right up to the formal campaign period and perhaps even beyond, so he is intending to do what he can to continue the negotiating process during the first part of 2015. 

Interviewer:   Don’t you think that this will be a reward for him, conducting the election campaign and the talks process together?

Ambassador:  I don’t see it that way.  It’s always perhaps a challenge to conduct an electoral campaign given the fact that you’re trying to appeal to your supporters in a contest over an election, and at the same time negotiate with the other side in Cyprus on a settlement agreement.  I accept that that’s always something that’s difficult.  But we only know if talks resume and the campaign is underway, it will be necessary perhaps to moderate campaign rhetoric in order to ensure that the messages that are perceived by the other side are sufficiently constructive to sustain momentum in the talks.  But that’s something that we’ll learn when the campaign is underway and hopefully the talks are resumed by hopefully sometime in early 2015 at the latest.      

Interviewer:   There was a confidence-building measure to open Varosha that was being promoted by the U.S.  What happened to this plan?

Ambassador:  I’ll just make two comments in that regard.  We think that the idea of taking bold steps in order to transform the atmosphere surrounding the Cyprus problem and build confidence in the two communities, that this settlement effort is of a different, more consequential quality than previous settlement efforts, is worthwhile.  We think that’s a good idea, we think that ideas and discussions along those lines have benefited.   We also have noticed that some of these ideas have enjoyed broad support, they have brought together people interested in working on them across the Green Line from one community to another, and they are useful in that regard in establish patterns of cooperation that will be very influential not just through the implementation of a settlement but for the future of Cyprus.  But for the moment, our attention is focused on working with Mr. Eide to get talks underway again and we are concentrating our efforts on that priority at this time.

For us, discussion about a Famagusta set of steps or any other package of confidence-building measures was never a substitute for settlement efforts, in fact the idea was to create mutually reinforcing processes.  So we look forward to progress on a broad front that would engage both types of activities.  But what I would say however is that the kind of civil society, intercommunal contacts that have been developed  in the context of this initiative and others, whether it’s business contacts, whether it’s the work of the technical committees, whether it’s the activities of the religious communities here, these are all things that are extremely important, that take on a new significance at a time when talks have been suspended, and that everybody involved in them should redouble their efforts  from our point of view in order to create the patterns of cooperation and mutual understanding that would be needed for a Cyprus settlement.

Interviewer:   The hydrocarbons issue when it first emerged was seen as something that hopefully would bring the sides together towards cooperation and a settlement.  But it seems like it has been the exact opposite.  What is your comment on that?

Ambassador:  I still believe that hydrocarbons can serve as a catalyst for progress towards a Cyprus settlement.  It is something new that has appeared on the scene and can create powerful positive incentives for the two communities to work together between themselves, and with regional neighbors, in order to find a new future for the island based on cooperation and reunification, a more prosperous and stable future.  Right now, the issue has contributed to tensions.  It has been cited by President Anastasiades with regards to the presence of the Barbaros as the reason why he needed to suspend talks, and clearly it will be important for the sides to think more cooperatively, more creatively, and perhaps with a stronger vision of working together in order to take advantage of the opportunity that hydrocarbons present for a settlement.

Interviewer:   Do you expect the tensions to increase even further, with Turkey not withdrawing the Barbaros and the Republic of Cyprus continuing to explore for hydrocarbons?  Some commentators are saying that this could escalate to disproportionate levels if both sides continue to do what they are doing right now.   Are you scared that something like this could happen?

Ambassador:  I think we have been clear that we call upon all concerned, including the two Cypriot parties but not only the two Cypriot parties, to avoid any actions that contribute to the escalation of tension.  One important way that everyone can work to avoid any increase in tension is to engage seriously and constructively with Espen Eide in order to find a way through this and in order to return to the negotiating table.     

Interviewer:   I have a question related to America’s position.  We interviewed the Russian ambassador a few days ago, and he said that Russia doesn’t follow the U.S. approach of putting pressure on the sides.  Does America put pressure and try to make impositions?  And why does the U.S. support reconciliation in the region?

Ambassador:   We have been consistent in our view that we believe a Cyprus settlement would be very helpful to our interests, as well as those of the people of Cyprus and of this region.  So our intense interest in taking advantage of the current opportunity for a Cyprus settlement remains, it’s strong.  It is rare that the U.S. government engages so frequently and at such a high level in support of a settlement effort, but that’s because not only do we believe that a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality on Cyprus would serve our interests, but we believe it would contribute to the stability to the region, it would help ensure a prosperous future for the island and make Cyprus a stronger partner for the United States.  We work very closely in various ways with the parties that are involved in the Cyprus settlement  – the Turkish Cypriot community, the Greek Cypriot community, Turkey, Greece, other outside parties, the United Nations, the European Union – all of this is aimed at supporting a settlement effort that in fact belongs not just in the context of negotiation, but also most especially in the context of implementation, of realization of this better future for Cyprus, this all lies in the hands of Cypriots.   So we will maintain this constructive engagement, we believe it’s desired by the partners.  If we can lend a hand to help you achieve your aspirations, we are more than ready to do so.

Interviewer:   And what’s the U.S. interest in a Cyprus settlement?

Ambassador:   We’ve always believe that a unified Cyprus would be better for our interests in the region.  It would in the traditional scheme certainly contribute to making Cyprus a stronger partner for us, but also to a normalization of the relations between Greece and Turkey, who are two American allies.  It would clear the path for stronger relations between NATO and the European Union, which is also something that is important to us.  Right now, in a region where there is so much turmoil and where so many crises are developing which are difficult to manage, a Cyprus settlement would enable us to cooperate much more effectively and more broadly with a wider range of actors to confront these challenges and to achieve more than we otherwise could in dealing with things like the Islamic State, with efforts to prevent the flow of fighters to this conflict and then back to other countries outside of the region.  So there are any number of ways in which a Cyprus settlement would serve our interests and also the interests of the people of the region.

Interviewer:   Do you see honestly will on the two sides to work for a federal settlement, or do you feel like the international community, including the U.S., is trying to get two sides together who have no interest whatsoever to come together?

Ambassador:  Well, I think the two sides want to reunify the island, and they want to find a way to reach agreement on settlement based on the principles that have been agreed over the years, beginning with the High-Level Agreements in the 1970s.  All of these characteristic have just recently been reaffirmed on the 11th of February of this year in the Joint Statement, so how could we not believe that the two sides are determined to seek a settlement on that basis?  What is needed perhaps is stronger manifestation of political will, a stronger prioritization by the two sides of those steps that will move the negotiation process forward, stronger commitment to understanding, respecting and working with the position of the other side, a less competitive approach to the negotiating procedure, one that is based more on the idea that this is a common project by Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, and building a joint future where you’ll be partners in a single federation.  That sometimes it seems gets drowned out by more partisan, more short-term, more competitive, more transactional approaches to individual issues which can obscure the notion that what you’re working on is the common future of this island, the most important issue that Cyprus has to confront.



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