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Our View: Gas role in talks the latest in long line of fantasies

Wrong advice: Tasos Tzonis

THE UN Secretary-General’s special envoy Alexander Downer resumes his contacts with the two sides on Monday, presumably with the aim of finding a common ground that would allow the start of talks. One of the reported options he will explore is the drafting of a short joint communiqué, as suggested by President Anastasiades. But if this satisfied the main conditions set by Anastasiades would it be given the nod by Dervis Eroglu?

An alternative being mooted is that he could invite the two leaders to New York for a meeting with Ban Ki-moon, who would force the two sides to agree to a compromise declaration. Conditions however are not ideal, with Turkey rocked by the government corruption scandal and Prime Minister Erdogan’s bitter feuding with the judiciary, the police force and the army. Erdogan has much more pressing problems at home and this is also an election year.

The climate on the Greek Cypriot side does not seem too favourable to settlement talks either, with the rejectionist parties, in co-operation with the media, raising the ante. The leaders of the smaller parties have all been urging President Anastasiades not to engage in a new round of talks while urging for a ‘new strategy’ and a ‘plan B’. However none of them has proposed what this new strategy should involve other than to repeat the meaningless clichés we have been hearing for decades, about “repositioning the Cyprus problem” and making Turkey suffer a political cost for its occupation.

The anti-talks camp may well embrace the ‘new strategy’ proposed in an interview in Phileleftheros by Ambassador Tasos Tzionis, the right hand man of the late Tassos Papadopoulos and currently the head of the energy desk at the foreign ministry. In the interview, Tzionis argued that the bi-communal talks could not lead to a settlement and that “other methods and procedures should be sought for a solution of our problem.” The way forward was through the forging of “strategic co-operation” for natural gas.

He said: “Cyprus has started to play an important regional role, within the bounds of its capabilities, utilising its geo-political position, which has surfaced mainly as a result of the developments in the field of hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean and the so-called, Arab spring.” He added that we should make the most of this “new situation that is made up of huge interests which, at last, could work in our favour”. Cyprus and Greece were in discussion with Israel and Egypt and “co-operation in the energy field, could constitute an axis for stability in the region,” he concluded.

Of course the reality is that we have still not found the quantities of natural gas that would allow us to play the important regional role Tzionis was talking about – it could take many years before this happens given the snail’s pace at which drilling companies work. As for the strategic co-operation, even if it materialised (it is far from certain) it would not be a security guarantee for the island, as the ambassador likes to believe. It is not enough to think big when you are a small and weak country, as we have constantly been shown, ever since the days of Makarios.

Yet Tzionis’ theories have been promoted by several newspaper columnists as the way forward and it will not be long before they are embraced by the politicians. In reality, they are wishful thinking or another serving of false hopes aimed at creating the illusion that there is an alternative to a negotiated settlement. We have been here before. Before the Annan plan referendum, one of the main arguments to support the no-vote was that a week after the vote Cyprus would become an EU member and be in a much stronger position to secure a just settlement. After almost 10 years of membership, not only has there been no settlement, but even the European Court of Human Rights, which we tried to use to turn the screw on Turkey, has closed its doors to Greek Cypriots making claims against Turkey.

Greek Cypriots have had enough of grandiose plans and false hopes based on the illusory premise that other countries would help bail us out, when we could not even rely on Greece. What is needed is honesty. Opponents of a negotiated settlement should, for once, speak honestly and tell people that partition would be preferable to an experimental, bi-zonal, bi-communal federation that could go wrong, instead of serving them with false hopes and big fantasies. The only Plan B on offer is partition which may well be the only viable solution after all these years, but this should be made clear.






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