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Varosha demands were made ‘in bad faith’

By Stefanos Evripidou

EFFORTS TO clinch a deal during the US Vice President’s visit that would allow experts to enter Varosha and study its condition collapsed because the Turkish Cypriot leadership tried to “humiliate” the Greek Cypriots, with Ankara’s backing, said Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides yesterday.

In the build-up to Joe Biden’s visit, reports were rife that the American Vice President would announce a first “small” confidence-building measure (CBM) on Varosha, where the US would fund a team of international experts to develop a master plan on the rejuvenation of the Famagusta area, including the dilapidated fenced area known as Varosha, controlled exclusively by the Turkish army.

When Biden met with President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu on Thursday night, the dinner lasted three hours- an hour over schedule- prompting rumours agreement had been reached on opening Varosha to the experts.

However, no breakthrough was announced, leaving Biden to say the US encourages the leaders to discuss a package on Varosha and Famagusta.

According to Kasoulides, Biden’s intention was to proceed with the declared position of President Barack Obama to implement CBMs in Cyprus.

Regarding the return of Varosha, a necessary first step would be to allow experts to enter the fenced area and study how infrastructure works could begin, looking at electricity, water supply, sewage, roads, pavements etc. The next phase would be to study whether the buildings are safe to live in so that the legitimate residents of Varosha could eventually return to their properties.

Experts could also undertake studies to upgrade Famagusta port, said Kasoulides.

“It was not possible to agree by the Vice President’s visit due to certain demands of the Turkish Cypriots which for us were not only unacceptable but also made in bad faith. They wanted to humiliate us with the inclusion of a special reference that these international experts could be foreign or Turkish Cypriot, but explicitly not Greek Cypriot.”

Kasoulides said the Greek Cypriot side would have been happy to accept internationals only or foreign experts assisted by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots working together.

“We never demanded that the experts be either Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot, but we cannot accept that Greek Cypriots are forbidden in an area which is purely Greek,” he said.

Negotiations came very close to success, but collapsed due to a number of Turkish Cypriot demands, the main one being to prohibit Greek Cypriot experts from entering Varosha.

Kasoulides also expressed his disappointment with Ankara’s stance, saying that while Turkish officials declare their willingness for a solution of the Cyprus problem, at the same time, they do not put their words into practice.

The Greek Cypriots know best what kind of measures would boost confidence in the talks and increase the chances of a positive outcome in a possible referendum, not others, said Kasoulides.

Asked what would happen now on the issue, he said diplomatic efforts will continue, adding that Biden remains a supporter of this effort, which will not be abandoned.

The return of Varosha was proposed by Anastasiades as part of a package which included opening Famagusta port to international trade under EU supervision, encouraging bicommunal cooperation on reconstructing Varosha and revitalising the entire district, opening Turkish ports and airports to Cypriot traffic, and lifting the veto on Turkey’s EU accession chapters.

Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides yesterday confirmed that “intense negotiations” were held in the last two weeks on Famagusta, with the US playing a leading role in contacts with Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots.

He said Biden tried very hard to get something specific on Famagusta while here but it did not prove possible.

“The US Vice President saw firsthand the stance of the Turkish side,” said Christodoulides, adding it was important for the Americans to see which side adopts a constructive stance, and who’s creating obstacles.

“We got close to an agreement that would have allowed the gradual implementation of the president’s proposal but the Turkish side’s stance was clear. The aim was not to promote the measures, but other objectives that we were not prepared to follow.”

Regarding Biden’s overall visit, Kasoulides described it as “historic” and “especially positive” for Cyprus, demonstrating the US interest for a solution of the Cyprus issue.

He noted Biden’s description of Cyprus as a “key player” in the wider region and a “strategic partner” of the US.

”These developments are the result of the Foreign Ministry’s systematic work for the last 15 months, on the instructions of the president.”

The aim was to prove Cyprus is a reliable partner in the fight against asymmetric threats, without any wavering or backpedalling, while also promoting its role in regional energy cooperation.

“We wanted to show Cyprus’ added value to the common foreign and security policy of the EU,” he said.

The result was strengthened relations with the US, which is now interested in a Cyprus solution.

The foreign minister hit out at those who made the “ridiculous argument” that Biden was coming for election campaign purposes,

Regarding repeated fears from opposition parties that Biden’s visit to the north would undermine the Cyprus Republic and upgrade the breakaway regime, he said the government acted on a cabinet decision of June 9, 2005 under the presidency of the late Tassos Papadopoulos which outlines the practice to be followed when foreign dignitaries want to meet with a Turkish Cypriot leader.

“It is a fact that some of us are haunted by phobias, as if we ourselves doubt the fact that we are the internationally recognised state, (and have phobias on) the Cyprus Republic’s sovereignty and the so-called effort of certain foreigners to undermine us and upgrade the pseudostate.”

Kasoulides also insisted that relations with Russia have not been harmed in any way by the enhanced Cyprus-US relations.

“Russia respects Cyprus’ right to exercise its foreign policy within the EU, where we belong.”

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