On Monday 13th June 2016, the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, gave an interview to MegaTv journalists, Michalis Pavlides and Marios Papaelia. Developments in the Cypriot Problem formed a major part of the interview.
The Cypriot Puzzle has translated to English that part of the interview and presents it below:
Journalist A (Michalis Pavlides): We are waiting these days Mr. President for you to present your suggestions on the reformation of the National Council. Can, based on your experience both as a member and its leader now, such a body perform well and produce concrete strategies with the participation of 8 parties, including ELAM?
President Anastasiades: It is not a matter of numbers but let me first say that my opinion is that the composition of the National Council needs to be limited to party leaders. When the party leaders are informed they have the obligation to inform their collective bodies as well and hence I do not see the need for a second presence. We used to have the first person from each party speaking and then the second one, sometimes there were even disagreements among the two.
Journalist B (Marios Papaelia): So there was no useful discussion and conclusion.
President Anastasiades: Exactly, not even enough time. Another matter is the one of confidentiality. I am of the opinion that we must all sign a confidentiality protocol. Upon exiting the National Council, every leader has the right to express his party stance but he cannot mention someone else’s stance in the Council and most importantly must not leak any information. Other measures will be taken in order to safeguard the confidentiality and secrecy of what is mentioned within it. At the same time, we now need to brainstorm with the parties on how to make the National Council more effective. We should not expend ourselves. Maybe it could be done in line with the different chapters and on the discussion that is taking place. The president could ask for the parties’ opinions to investigate the possibility of creating a common position on certain issues. However, what is of high importance is the way some parties view the solution of the Cyprus problem.
Journalist A: Is ELAM included in what you are saying? Will it be invited in the National Council?
President Anastasiades: As far as I understand ELAM is taking part in all parliamentary committees so why would I exclude any party? If they carry on acting in the way they’ve been up to now, respecting the rules of democracy and staying away from extremism, why call some of their opinions infectious, especially since they might be aligned with the positions of so-called democratic parties. The people have spoken, I am not the one to change their decision.
Journalist B: Will you summon the National Council any time soon? There is a demand for this from both AKEL and DIKO in order to review the developments regarding the Cypriot issue.
President Anastasiades: The first step is the letter with reformation suggestions, second step is its acceptance by the party leaders and then it will be summoned.
Journalist B: If one party leader does not accept to sign the confidentiality agreement?
President Anastasiades: Then he will not take part in the National Council. I do not see why anyone should be annoyed when taking on a share of responsibility. This is not done to belittle anyone. Many institutional bodies take on such responsibilities or have legal obligations to respect the confidentiality clause. When a document is classified as confidential, this is because there is a law that calls for it. The same goes for any set of documents that might be classified as “publishable” or “confidential”.
Journalist A: Now that we have touched on the National Council issue let us move to the Cypriot problem. Currently, 6 parties, which have seen an increase in their electoral percentages, are in disagreement with your strategy on the Cyprus issue.
President Anastasiades: Which is this new strategy we are following that was not followed by every single previous government and in which they might have been members of?
Journalist B: This is exactly what they are asking for. They are asking for a change in strategy as for the past 42 years there have been endless processes, negotiations are not leading anywhere and they are asking for a change in strategy.
President Anastasiades: I have not understood yet what the content of this new strategy is and this should be explained in paper by each party. What do they mean by strategy? What do they mean when they say that they do not accept bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Speaking publicly in parliament, I proved that none of the previous presidents ever changed this strategy or line. Now, some want to give their own interpretations. Some say that Makarios never wanted bi-zonal, bi-communal federation when it is well-known that Tassos Papadopoulos gave such a map in Vienna at Makarios’ order. Tassos Papadopoulos said himself that at the order of Makarios he delivered the bizonal, bicommunal map in Vienna. This is documented in the National Council transcripts. The same strategy was followed by Spyros Kyprianou, Vassiliou, Clerides, Papadopoulos and Christofias. All of them were elected with the assistance of several parties and people voted for them while aware of this specific strategy on the Cypriot issue. They should help me understand what this new strategy is. 42 years later, will we say that we will enlighten the public? After the outrageous crime of 1974 where were we led? We were led to the decision to discuss bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. How will facts change? Shouldn’t we consider what has been going on in the occupied areas? Will we start a new long standing fight? To be led where? We should all be seriously considerate when referring to the Cyprus issue. I undeniably agree when I hear that our aim should be the safeguarding of the Republic of Cyprus. At the same time, though, I wonder what those who insist on this aim mean t. If they mean the evolution of the Cypriot Republic meaning that we will move on to a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, so long as it is efficient, viable and able to withstand time and respect human rights, I understand it. However, some who say that we should safeguard the Republic of Cyprus, but mean with its given territorial jurisdiction, then we are talking about something different. They mean that we should safeguard the Republic of Cyprus and potentially disregard our occupied country.
Journalist B: I do not think that this is the case Mr. President.
President Anastasiades: I want to hope that this is not the case.
Journalist A: Mr. President, are the expectations cultivated by several circles within and outside Cyprus congruous with real circumstances in the negotiations? Is the goal still for a solution within 2016? Is it possible that in 200 days from today we will solve the problem?
President Anastasiades: If there is goodwill, both from the other side but most importantly from Turkey, by helping to overcome problems or withdraw suggestions that cannot be accepted, then yes, it is possible.
Journalist A: “If there is goodwill”, you say. Well, you do spend so much time on this, you are everyday involved in this process and you speak with them; what do you note? Does this goodwill exist? Does the possibility exist that Turkey makes a change in course to reach the solution of the Cyprus problem? Because if there is a change in course from Turkey, then the problem can be solved in 16 days, not even 200.
President Anastasiades: There are some facts that lead many international actors to the conclusion that Turkey is favourable towards a solution. What I always say though, is what sort of solution does Turkey seek for? This will be clarified in the next meetings which will be based on the various chapters and shaped in an intensive way in order to see where we are led to.
Journalist B: Which are the circumstances that you believe can make Turkey change its stance towards a solution? What circumstances are created?
President Anastasiades: I don’t place so much importance on the European aspirations of Turkey. Potentially they are more interested in the lifting of visas in Europe. They are also significantly interested in the energy sector as they are interested in becoming an energy hub. The attempt of restoring the good relationship with Israel is not by chance. The amount of gas that we believe to have is also very important as Cyprus can become Turkey’s supplier either for its internal consumption or for the transfer of natural gas to Europe. A non-solution of the Cyprus problem will then hinder the passing of pipes to Turkey. The interest is hence upgraded for a hundred reasons. Allow me to say that the natural gas is potentially the most significant factor; however, there are other ones as well. For instance, sustaining an illegal regime with a considerable yearly budget of 1 billion euros. Also, maintaining 40,000 troops in Cyprus. Add to that the situation within Turkey and the situation around it with everyone else. Instead of a decrease in problems, problems have multiplied and even though they had been non-existent, they managed to arise. Differences with Russia, with the United States, with Europe and considerable differences with Arab states. At the same time, there is also the Kurdish matter, in the heart of Turkey.
Journalist A: So Turkey wants a solution, or rather a solution suits it.
President Anastasiades: Yes, a solution suits Turkey.
Journalist A: Ok, but what sort of a solution is it seeking at the negotiation table?
President Anastasiades: As I said, this will be clarified in the discussions in the following meetings.
Journalist A: So today you cannot tell us that Turkey is seeking a solution that will be viable.
President Anastasiades: I have repeatedly said that verbal expression of support for a solution is not enough. What is needed is the practical and concrete support and contribution to a solution.
Journalist A: The UN Secretary General’s term is coming to an end at the end of this year. Does this form an informal timeline for the completion of the solution process?
President Anastasiades: This is the Secretary General’s will: to see one of the international problems be solved in his term. The international community wants to see that in such a turbulent region there is one country with stability, a model of coexistence between Christians and Muslims; a country that can play a significant role in the wider region, regardless of its size. What I say is that the Secretary General’s term coming to an end is not the issue. It is his wish, as well as ours for a solution to be found as soon as possible. However there has never been a specific timeline set, if a solution is not possible. We want it to be the soonest possible. This is not only our government’s wish, it has been the constant wish of every government to find a solution to the Cyprus problem as soon as possible. However when you have to face positions that are impossible to be accepted as they do not lead to what has been accepted and on what the discussions are based, then you cannot go ahead.
Journalist B: Mr President I would like to add to Michalis’ point that there is also the change in government in the US government and then from March 2017 onwards we are headed in an electoral period for the presidential elections of February 2018.
President Anastasiades: All these are factors that indicate that the sooner a solution is reached, the better. If you make good use of this juncture then you might reach a solution soon. But if you don’t, then you might lose an opportunity that would have assisted towards the right solution of the Cyprus problem. I repeat that this will be clarified in the next meetings.
Journalist A: Do you trust Mr. Eide as the mediator?
President Anastasiades: I would like to avoid any comments. What I would like to say is that it is not a matter of whether I trust Mr. Eide or not. In any case, Mr. Eide does not intervene in the negotiations, we need to be fair. I have however many times disagreed with the way Mr. Eide projects developments or stagnation in the negotiation process. I have disagreed when he creates a climate of overt optimism that does not reflect reality. The creation of incorrect images might at first give hope, but hope is very close to disappointment, which is a factor that could destroy everything. I repeat though that Mr. Eide does not intervene and I cannot say that he has ever supported the Turkish Cypriot positions over the Greek Cypriot ones. Nevertheless the way he acts in his attempt to create what is in his opinion a favourable climate, can sometimes cause damage. But I repeat that all is done in good faith and I have to admit that he has contributed greatly in establishing the premise that the solution can only be based on the EU acquis and on that he is adamant.
Journalist B: In your first meeting with Mr. Eide, after everything that happened in Istanbul, did you make it clear to him that this cunning behaviour will not be tolerated? That moves that cannot guarantee the safeguarding of the Republic of Cyprus cannot be accepted?
President Anastasiades: We have extensively discussed the issue. In the past I have also made similar interventions in order to avoid any images that might be harmful rather than useful and leading to the opposite rather than the desired end.
Journalist A: Mr. President, by following your public statements one could say that progress has been noted on the issues of governance, the European Union, finance and property so there is still a lot of distance to be covered before we reach the desired end. At the same time the leaders of the opposition challenge you to inform the public about convergences, common understandings and differences, to inform the refugees about the exceptions based on which they might lose their right of return and to inform people on the laws drafted by the working groups.
President Anastasiades: Look, you inform when you have something new to say. Did I not make a public appearance in front of parliament? Did I not inform the MPs, as well as the public, with a lengthy and detailed statement? In that statement, I referred to all the areas where convergences, common understandings and differences lie. We are not talking about weather forecasting where we should be issuing a statement everyday. If there are developments that call for informing the public, then this will be so. But only when such developments occur, if not, what should I be saying to people? Or should I be cultivating a pessimistic impression? We have been striving for the past 42 years to achieve closure of the issue.
Journalist B: Mr. President, you referred earlier to a triptych, where convergences, common understandings and differences will be documented. After your meeting with Mr. Akıncı you only mentioned the listing of differences. One then naturally wonders why the President does not want convergences to be noted down so as for the people to know what we agree on or at least on which issues we are approaching agreement.
Journalist A: Adding to Marios’ point, after the Istanbul fiasco you had stated that in order for the negotiations to proceed, a clear understanding of the situation is needed.
President Anastasiades: Documenting our differences or convergences means depicting the current situation. Convergences are established and documented. What we said in the last meeting is that instead of the time-consuming triptych check, in order to save time, let us concentrate on turning common understandings into convergences. To find ways to agree on in the areas of divergence or at least minimize the divergence in order for one to be able to hope that problems could be overcome. On behalf of our side and for the purposes of knowledge, as well as of a comparison with the Annan plan, the triptych is being prepared.
Journalist B: So the triptych will be created?
President Anastasiades: From our side, of course! We will document convergences, differences and common understandings. And at any time, without entering a blame game, if anyone wants to claim that the progress is such that it is a matter of time before the Cypriot problem is solved, then we will have this document showing clearly the situation. Where do differences lie? Where do certain proposals lead to? Where do they not lead to?
Journalist A: Mr. President, you are very much afraid of leaks. The Turkish Cypriot leader said that when you will start getting into the land discussion, names of villages will be leaked, leading to upheaval.
President Anastasiades: You mean the chapter on territorial readjustments.
Journalist A: Yes. Is there any scenario examined that you might be led outside of Cyprus in order to discuss territorial readjustments?
President Anastasiades: The suggestion was made, but I said that I do not see what would lead us to go abroad in order to conclude. Progress will be assisted if the correct suggestions exist, regardless of location. If those suggestions don’t exist then what would the difference of being abroad be? But I would like to say that we will proceed to a discussion or rather to a brainstorming session in order to see where we stand, without maps or anything. This will be done both on the chapter of territorial readjustment as well as on that of guarantees. Some first opinions, thoughts, direction so that each side understands what its positions will be.
Journalist A: The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have worked a lot in Cyprus lately and it seems that they are preparing their report.
President Anastasiades: We still have some way to go.
Journalist A: There is a strange sense among people, who see a lot of information come to light regarding the cost of a solution that might even exceed 30 billion. What is worrying is who will pay for this?
President Anastasiades: I have even heard 80 billion. You know, it is the first time in 42 years that such a thorough study is created. Up to now everything was by calculation only. I remember in the Annan Plan the presidential gardens were included in the cost of a solution. Many times we exaggerated our estimations. A thorough study is under way in order to know what the compensation cost will be and what the cost of return will be, in the territorial readjustments. What will the functioning costs of the state be? This is the first section. The second one is the banking system. In which state is it? We know everything regarding the Republic of Cyprus. No one knows about the occupied areas though. It is only now that the study with the IMF has started in order to know the situation of the banking system.
Journalist A: You calculate the cost but do you also take into consideration who will pay for it?
President Anastasiades: Yes, studies are undertaken on this, ideas are submitted and I am of the opinion that we should engage in bilateral meetings with states that might contribute. To find ways of financing with guarantees from third countries. Also ensuring payment not from taxation but possibly from a percentage out of the natural gas fund. What I repeat and stress to every interlocutor is that we should have the fund ready together with the solution plan, otherwise no one will agree, whether with bonds or any other securities.
Journalist A: We are talking about a second Memorandum of Understanding Mr. President.
President Anastasiades: If we suppose that Federal Cyprus takes on the guarantee of loans, then public debt will be increased and then yes, we will be led to a second Memorandum. But if some of the donors will not give as a whole sum, what we calculate they would give, there will be a different approach. It is not easy to collect billions of money. But you need a targeted policy towards each country. Europe, how much is due from Turkey, how much Qatar might give or Saudi Arabia? Then through bilateral meetings you might be able to achieve much more. Let us suppose that instead of 5 billion from a country, well, i am exaggerating…
Journalist B: This is an exaggeration, President…! (jokingly)
President Anastasiades: Ok let’s take the pessimistic scenario. Let’s say a country that is willing to give 2 billion. This country says that it will give us one billion but guarantee us to get another one. In this way this country is not upset, as thanks to its wealth it doesn’t influence significantly its public debt. On the other hand, the Republic of Cyprus is not burdened. The payment of this obligation though should neither derive from taxation nor from any other burden on the public. Certain preposterous things are said on this which do not stand in any way. Some allege that the Greek Cypriot side will be called to pay for the compensation of the GCs’ property. Such claims are inconceivable. We should be careful.
Journalist A: So, who will pay? Turkey?
President Anastasiades: Turkey, as well.