By Stefanos Evripidou
FOR THE first time since the Turkish invasion, Greek Cypriots will have the opportunity to negotiate with those who bear responsibility for a solution of the Cyprus problem, said President Nicos Anastasiades yesterday.
Speaking during a live televised press conference on his recent visit to the United States, Anastasiades welcomed Turkey’s positive response to his proposal for the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot negotiators to visit Ankara and Athens respectively as part of the latest peace push.
He expressed hope that this will be followed by practical and meaningful steps and a generally constructive stance of good faith, which will effectively contribute to finding a solution.
The proposal was formulated in full coordination with the Greek government, said the president, who rubbished fears that Greece and Cyprus had inadvertently opened the door to a “two-party, three-party, four-party or multi-party conference”.
“The problem of Cyprus was never bicommunal in nature. It is not about the differences between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. What divided the country was the invasion and continued occupation, therefore our interlocutors should not only be our Turkish Cypriot compatriots,” he said.
“The possibility of the Greek Cypriot negotiator meeting with representatives of Ankara gives us for the first time since the invasion the ability to negotiate with those who should be held accountable for the positions submitted at the negotiating table, those who bear responsibility for a solution of the Cyprus problem.”
He added: “Moreover, it is the long-standing position of all that the Cyprus problem should be returned to its correct basis, as a problem of invasion and occupation.”
The latest agreement on the two negotiators visiting separately the guarantor powers does not undermine the Cyprus Republic, but on the contrary enhances it, he argued.
“In my opinion, Turkey as an occupying power holds the key to a solution. It cannot stay away from the dialogue, merely listening to others urging it to help resolve the problem.”
During his meetings in Washington and New York, which included talks with US Vice President Joe Biden and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Anastasiades said he made it clear that “the timing of the launch of negotiations is not as important as adequately preparing for them”.
Elaborating, he said the talks should have a clear basis, goals and objectives, in order to create a new impetus and hope for effective dialogue.
He called on Turkey to take “bold” steps like opening Varosha to its lawful inhabitants.
Not only would this give hope for a solution, but the reconstruction process would “undoubtedly lead to new jobs in a number of sectors, giving a great boost to the economy”.
Meanwhile, Greek and Turkish Cypriots would come closer together through cooperation in the reconstruction of the town that has been sealed off for the last 39 years, thereby highlighting the benefits that could come from a common future of prosperity, he said.
Anastasiades said the Greek Cypriot negotiating team was preparing a comprehensive solution outline which it would submit at the talks in due time.
That outline will not include certain unpopular proposals that had been tabled by former president Demetris Christofias, he said.
The president said he planned to visit Athens in the coming days to meet with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and exchange views on their recent US trips.
Anastasiades warned of the dangers of time passing without a solution and referred to the increasing number of applications of Greek Cypriot property owners to the immoveable property commission in the north.
He noted that a report has been prepared by members of the National Council on the matter which includes a package of proposals on how to deal with the issue.
Matters of national importance are not dealt with through “bombastic” statements but rather through responsible political decisions, he said.
“In my view, the time has finally come for collective consultation to prevail, maturity and understanding.”
He spoke of the enhancement of Cyprus’ geostrategic position due to the recent hydrocarbons discovery within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
During his meetings in the US, Cyprus’ leading role in bringing together neighbouring countries not only on delineating maritime borders but also on the joint exploration of hydrocarbons was welcomed, he said.
According to Anastasiades, “Energy should not be a source of conflict but rather a catalyst towards the resolution of conflicts and regional integration.”
He said in his contacts with international figures there was a “lively international interest” on the need to resolve the Cyprus problem, since, as he put it, everyone now recognises Cyprus’ stabilising role in the region.
He expressed the hope that the verbal support he received during his meetings will turn to practical support so that a lasting, functional solution can be achieved as soon as possible, in accordance with European principles and values.
Replying to a question as to what role natural gas could play in the talks and whether the prospect of a pipeline could entice Turkey, he said that natural gas would not play a part in the talks.
“Would you wish it to play a role in the talks or to blow up the talks?” he said, adding, “Natural gas will not be part of the talks to avoid the risk of explosion.”
He reiterated the position that natural gas belongs to all citizens of the Republic of Cyprus and that if through a solution the state becomes a federal one, natural gas will belong to the citizens of the federal state.
“Before the solution nothing of the sort is under discussion”, he pointed out.
Anastasiades highlighted that in all his meetings in New York and Washington it was evident that Cyprus’ right to exercise its sovereign rights within its EEZ was recognised and that no one would think of questioning that.
On the contrary, Anastasiades said: “Everyone was adamant and particularly the United States that no one is entitled to question the Republic of Cyprus’ sovereign rights.”
Asked whether he was put under pressure during his US visit to somehow bring back the Annan plan, he clarified that “no one, but no one mentioned the name Annan, nor the plan” except Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
Asked what steps are being taken to “adequately prepare” citizens for a possible referendum on the transformation of the Cyprus Republic into a federation, he said cooperation with the public started yesterday with the televised press conference and would continue with frequent updates as the talks develop.
“What else can I do to prepare public opinion?” he asked.
Speaking at a separate public event last night, he said a solution “can serve as a catalyst for Cyprus to exit the economic crisis”.
“We are determined to turn the crisis into an opportunity,” said the president, adding that “political developments inside and outside Cyprus, the economic developments and developments in the energy sector have upgraded the international interest and have garnered international attention in Cyprus and the wider region and we have to exploit this situation”.
The president also informed the National Council yesterday of his meetings in New York and Washington and the latest developments in the Cyprus problem.