By Stefanos Evripidou
THE FUTURE of Cyprus without a solution is pretty grim, George Vassiliou and Mehmet Ali Talat told a crowded audience of Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, and foreign diplomats last night.
The ex-president and former Turkish Cypriot leader were invited to speak at a panel discussion organised by the Association for Social Reform (OPEK) in the buffer zone’s Home for Cooperation in Nicosia.
The event was well attended as the audience spilled out on to the street opposite the bullet-ridden Ledra Palace hotel. People came to hear the former leaders dabble in hindsight and stress the urgent need for an immediate solution.
“Without a solution we cannot be very optimistic about the future. We have to, all of us, irrespective of the party we vote for, fight for a solution,” said Vassiliou.
“We simply do not have any more time to keep on talking,” he said, adding, “If we don’t solve it in the next six to eight months, we will never solve it. We need to work now.”
Talat said: “We need to plan the new negotiations very carefully, knowing that this time, failure will be a disaster and rectification of the failure will be much more difficult.”
He added: “We cannot endure anymore.”
Vassiliou argued that a Cyprus solution would be to the benefit of all involved, including the international community.
The Greek Cypriots, who are suffering their worst economic crisis since independence, need substantial investments from abroad, but “most important of all we need to regain the confidence in ourselves and of the international community”, he said.
“Also to exploit the huge advantages that Cyprus will reap by becoming the energy hub for the region and Europe, huge investments are required. The easiest and safest way for achieving all that is to ensure that Cyprus is reunified,” added the former president.
Turkish Cypriots are unable to enjoy the advantages of EU membership and live in isolation. A solution would change that and let them work with Greek Cypriots to develop and exploit the natural resources of Cyprus.
The gas could go through a pipeline to Turkey and on to Europe. “I know it’s a matter of controversy but I don’t mind,” said the octogenarian.
He noted that a pipeline from Larnaca to Turkey was the cheapest and easiest option for exporting gas not just from Cyprus but the region, including Lebanon, Israel and Gaza.
For Greece, the solution would be the “end of a long nightmare”, opening the path towards enhancing relations with Turkey.
A solution would be the best reward for the UN and international community for their efforts and great investments all these years, said Vassiliou.
“It will send the message that one should never give up and keep trying. It will be the best incentive for continuing their efforts in addressing other unsolved, until now, problems around the world.”
On the latest peace efforts, Vassiliou called on the two sides to prioritise the issues of territory, property and security.
The opening of the fenced off part of Famagusta would provide a big push to the talks, but for their successful conclusion, both sides need to make compromises, he said, adding: “I believe in Cyprus. We have lost a lot of time, but despite the years lost we can still succeed.”
Talat noted that a solution needs will and determination on the part of the leaders, but also the public need to be properly informed of the need for a solution.
A solution is of fundamental importance to the lives of Turkish Cypriots. “In order to be able to live as a human being, a citizen of a country, this is a must,” he said.
“In my opinion, the problem lies with the Greek Cypriots, because they don’t need a solution, it is not a must,” said Talat. A solution is most certainly beneficial for Greek Cypriots too but this needs to be explained to the public, argued Talat.
The fact sections of the media represent certain political viewpoints does not help either.
“We need to find ways from now in the negotiations, and tailor a plan to make the public understand the need for a solution. At every step, the parties have to explain the developments and the importance of these developments and the benefits to their public,” he said.
Talat described the Turkish Cypriots’ confusion over the Greek Cypriot rejection of the 2004 Annan plan.
“We couldn’t understand why they didn’t accept,” he said.
Later, the Turkish Cypriots realised that their neighbours had the impression the plan had been imposed by others. The former Turkish Cypriot leader said the fact that the Republican Turkish Party (CTP)- whose mission is to solve the Cyprus problem- was now in power in the north created very good chances for the Cypriots to have a solution.
Asked about the opening of the fenced off part of Famagusta, Talat said he was not against it, but as things stood now, opening the ghost town now would be “much more difficult than solving the Cyprus problem. We will lose ourselves in the quagmire, believe me”.