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Our View: Time would be better spent negotiating a comprehensive settlement

Ozdil Nami ruled out the opening of the fenced-off city of Famagusta as part of confidence-building measures

SOME 10 days ago, foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides raised expectations by announcing the possibility of a deal with Turkey for the opening of the fenced off area of Famagusta, for the return of its inhabitants. In exchange the Cyprus government would agree to the opening of Tymbou airport to direct flights.

Kasoulides also said that Ankara had given the EU the preliminary go-ahead to examine the deal that could also have led to the unblocking of chapters in Turkey’s accession negotiations. Perhaps this was the reason for press speculation that Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule would take charge of the negotiations for the deal, which Kasoulides described as a ‘big step’.

The idea of the opening of the fenced off area of Famagusta under the UN has been raised many times in the past and President Anastasiades also supported it, arguing that this would be a meaningful confidence-building measure that would help negotiations for an overall settlement. However, the president and his government did not follow the example of Kasoulides, avoiding saying anything about the matter in public.

It was obvious the president did not approve of Kasoulides’ decision to reveal the existence of the plan. The UN, which was trying to broker the agreement, had requested that it was kept secret, as making it public could destroy the initiative. We do not know if the plan is still being discussed, but the foreign minister’s revelation prompted the predictable reactions from the Greek Cypriot hardliners, who wanted a comprehensive settlement and not a deal that would lead to the recognition of the north, by allowing direct flights Tymbou airport.

Ironically, they were in agreement with Dervis Eroglu’s spokesman Osman Ertug who denied the existence of an EU initiative and stated that Varosha would be part of the ‘comprehensive settlement’. Of course it is entirely possible that Turkey had not informed the Turkish Cypriots about the initiative.

Meanwhile, Kasoulides changed his story five days after making his revelation. “Right now what we have is our proposal on this issue,” he told CNA, adding that “we believe talks will be helped significantly if Famagusta is returned to its legal citizens.” No mention was made of EU involvement or Turkey’s willingness to discuss the matter. The foreign minister had obviously made a blunder and was trying to patch things up, but his revelation may have destroyed the initiative.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, because rather than waste time and effort negotiating the technicalities of a legally complicated confidence-building measure, it would be better to devote the time and effort to finding a comprehensive settlement. We have to agree with the hard-liners on this.



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