By Stefanos Evripidou
Returning the fenced-off part of Famagusta (Varosha ) to its lawful inhabitants would be the kind of “game changer” needed to overturn the deep levels of mistrust Greek Cypriots have for Turkey, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said.
In an interview with London Greek Radio (LGR) on Tuesday, Kasoulides was asked to elaborate on reports that the EU is mediating between Cyprus and Turkey to reach a deal on returning the Turkish occupied coastal town which was sealed off by the Turkish military in August 1974 and has since remained uninhabited.
The minister, in London for a meeting with his British counterpart William Hague, declined to go into detail, saying nothing has actually happened so far on the part of the EU.
“We hope that an effort will get underway,” he said, adding that when the time comes all will be revealed.
Earlier this month, Kasoulides had initially spoken of Turkey’s willingness to let the EU play honest broker between the two sides and bang out a deal which would see, among other things, Varosha returned in exchange for allowing direct flights to the airport in the occupied village of Tymbou.
However, he later backtracked, saying that Tymbou was not on the cards at present.
Speaking to LGR, Kasoulides revisited the issue, saying that opening Varosha to its lawful inhabitants would be a real “game changer” in the Cyprus problem.
“Everyone understands that something is needed that will constitute a game changer,” he said, adding, “For us, Famagusta is the great step forward”.
It would undoubtedly improve significantly existing trust issues between the two sides and enable the peace talks to proceed with the resolution of matters of substance as far as the Cyprus issue is concerned, he said.
Kasoulides said he also discussed the issue of the peace process being “Cypriot-owned” and “Cypriot-led” with his British counterpart.
Following the overwhelming rejection of the Annan plan by Greek Cypriots in 2004, there was considerable concern not to repeat the same formula of having British and American envoys heavily involved in drawing the peace plan, with the blanks filled in by the UN Secretary-general.
Instead, in 2008, former president Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat launched a round of Cypriot-owned and led peace talks.
Kasoulides said he explained to Hague that the proposition that the two communities alone could solve the Cyprus issue was an illusion. Turkey has to be involved in the peace effort rather than have the process being ‘Cyprus-owned’, he said.
The Cypriot minister argued the differences between the two communities were small and could easily be resolved, while Cyprus and Turkey have huge differences which need to be addressed.
Therefore, a way must be found for Cyprus and Turkey to enter into talks directly, he said, otherwise the talks could end up being a repetition of all other efforts in the past decades.
“I think our position was fully understood,” said Kasoulides, adding, “I feel I have conveyed the message and that it has reached its destination”.
President Nicos Anastasiades made the direct inclusion of Turkey in the peace talks part of his election campaign. He also pledged to appoint a chief negotiator in the talks, rather than follow past practice of having direct talks between the leaders of the two communities.
The government has announced that a chief negotiator will be decided upon in consensus with the members of the National Council by July 17.