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Cyprus

Anastasiades: gas crucial to US role in talks

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

By Elias Hazou

ON THE eve of a new round of peace talks, President Nicos Anastasiades has said that an agreement reunifying the island would help ease Turkey’s energy needs.

In an interview with The Associated Press published on Monday, the president said a deal would allow Turkey to be supplied with newly found Cypriot and Israeli natural gas and contribute to improving relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv.

Anastasiades told the AP the United States was instrumental in the resumption of stalled negotiations with the breakaway regime. He added that the growing interest in an accord is grounded in the potential for regional energy cooperation and helping to diminish instability in a turbulent region.

The president said Israel could also export its offshore gas to Turkey through a reunified Cyprus and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may visit Cyprus in the spring.

US Secretary of State John Kerry may also be coming here around March, according to local media reports. Citing their sources, daily Politis and Phileleftheros said the chief US diplomat has taken a personal interest in the Cyprus issue. Kerry is reportedly being kept abreast of developments by US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland – who was on the island earlier this month – and by US Ambassador in Nicosia John Koenig.

The rumoured American role in nudging ahead a new peace drive has been tied to a broader US policy of encouraging a thawing of Turkish-Israeli relations. Israel is currently mulling how and where to export its excess natural gas reserves, with Cyprus and Turkey both being possible destinations.

Peace talks, stalled since January 2012, are set to resume after the leaders of the communities last week agreed a joint communiqué laying out the broad parameters of a settlement.

Whereas the Greek Cypriot leadership has been talking up the document as a success, having secured in it the so-called three singles – sovereignty, citizenship and personality – a different narrative has emerged north of the dividing line.

In an interview with Hurriyet, Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu indicated that the joint communiqué was not to his liking, but that he would engage in talks regardless.

The document contained ‘theoretical’ points, which the Turkish Cypriot side would negotiate to render more specific, said Eroglu.

“Contrary to the Greek Cypriots, we regard the text as a tool for commencing negotiations. I cannot say that I liked the text one hundred per cent…the desires of the Greek Cypriots as well as our own had to be registered on that paper,” he was quoted as saying.

Maintaining his hawkish outlook, Eroglu warned that he’d refuse to sign a peace deal which international movers and shakers might foist on Turkish Cypriots for the sake of wrapping up the decades-long conflict.

“If they force me to sign and we find ourselves at the mercy of the Greek Cypriots, to me that is not an agreement,” Eroglu said.

He challenged also the notion of a single sovereignty, as provided for in the joint declaration, saying: “All states are sovereign. No constitution of any nation-state speaks of a single sovereignty. But the Greek Cypriots insisted on this. Therefore each [constituent] state is sovereign.”

Eroglu’s ‘foreign’ minister Ozdil Nami, however, appeared more comfortable with the content and wording of the joint declaration.

Speaking to Hurriyet, Nami said the document provides for two constituent states that will exercise any powers that are not delegated to the central, federal government.

“Just as Obama cannot abolish the death penalty in Texas, here too it will be similar,” he explained.

The two constituent states would maintain powers and jurisdictions in some areas – such as education – but not in others, such as defence and foreign affairs.

Nami also expressed the opinion that a peace plan would go to separate referenda only if opinion polls conducted previously indicated that the chances for acceptance are solid.

“You should know that, if we do go to referenda, a ‘yes’ will emerge,” he added.

Explaining US involvement in the latest talks initiative, Nami said the Americans neither pressured the sides nor imposed anything on them. The US government engaged once a vacuum was created following the discrediting by the Greek Cypriots of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser Alexander Downer.

However Nami ruled out the opening of the fenced-off city of Famagusta as part of confidence-building measures. Instead, Varosha would be part of the peace negotiations themselves.

The Turkish Cypriot side would not give up its ace in the hole [Varosha] just so that Greek Cypriots could be prodded into accepting a peace plan, he said.

Meanwhile in Nicosia, the government hailed remarks by the president of the European Commission, José Barroso, who supported keeping separate Varosha and the talks process – in line with Greek Cypriot aspirations.

Deputy government spokesman Viktoras Papadopoulos said Barroso’s comments indicated that the President’s lobbying of the EU was paying dividends.

Barroso went on to urge political parties in Cyprus to get behind the President in the peace process – a remark that did not sit well with the parties.

AKEL does not need Barroso to advise it on how to behave on the Cyprus issue, party leader Andros Kyprianou said.

Giorgos Lillikas, head of the Citizens Alliance, accused Barroso of meddling in domestic Cypriot affairs. And EDEK leader Yiannakis Omirou said the EU official’s remarks were reminiscent of foreign interference in 2004, when a UN peace plan was put to the people.

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