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Kasoulides and Papadopoulos trade barbs in visa row

Diko leader Nicolas Papadopoulos

DIKO leader Nicolas Papadopoulos does not want a solution to the Cyprus problem, foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides said on Thursday, as a row between the two escalated over the European Commission’s proposal for the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish citizens.

Earlier this week the Turkish cabinet approved waiving visas for visitors from all 28 EU member states once Europe relaxes its own visa requirements for Turks.

Although the visa waiver will apply to Greek Cypriots, Turkish officials said it did not amount to recognition of the Republic.

But speaking on the state broadcaster on Thursday, DIKO’s Papadopoulos insisted the visa waiver raised other concerns, such as illegal migration and asylum seekers.

“There is now the danger that 80 million Turkish nationals could move freely in Cyprus, while we ourselves cannot move freely in our own country,” Papadopoulos said.

Accusing the government of a weak foreign policy for not objecting to the European Commission’s document, Papadopoulos zeroed in on the foreign minister, whom he accused of having a history of ‘exculpating’ Turkey’s policy on Cyprus.

The DIKO leader brought up an interview given by Kasoulides to Turkish daily Milliyet last year, where Kasoulides said he would be willing to fly out of Ercan (Tymbou) airport in the north should circumstances on the island change.

Kasoulides said Papadopoulos was twisting his words. What he had told Milliyet, he said, was that he was ready to use Ercan airport only following a solution and reunification.

Going on the counteroffensive, the minister said the DIKO chief had blown matters out of proportion, exploiting the EU visa waiver for Turkey and deliberately conflating this with the issue of settlers in Cyprus.

In reality, these are two separate issues, Kasoulides said, suggesting that Papadopoulos’ concerns were merely a vote-grabbing ploy –directed particularly at Greek Cypriot refugees – in the midst of an election campaign.

At any rate, it was too early to fret about the impact of the visa waiver on the Republic of Cyprus.

The ‘road map’ for lifting the visa requirement for Turkish nationals was contingent on Ankara meeting 72 benchmarks, or criteria, Kasoulides noted.

“We want to handle this in a serious manner, and we believe that the proper thing to do is for the road map to be completed, to see whether all 72 benchmarks are being implemented, because a number of important issues remain which are required before a decision is made on the visas.

“In other words, if Turkish nationals do not require a visa to visit Cyprus, there necessarily must be a readmission agreement which applies to us as well. Otherwise how will you send back those who are not allowed to come to Cyprus?”

Nicosia, he added, will decide its stance on the visa waiver at the European Council only once these and other matters have been regulated.

“We have several scenarios before us, and we know what we must do in each case. If, for instance, the above measures are not implemented, we shall vote against [the visa waiver]. If they are implemented, then we should act to safeguard certain special national interests, one of which is settlers.”

Asked whether the Republic of Cyprus would be able to set conditions on the visa waiver, the minister said Nicosia could ask for a partial or full suspension, “provided that our demands are duly substantiated.”

A decision by the European Council– planned for June – on the visa waiver will require a qualified majority.

Kasoulides said Papadopoulos’ track record spoke for itself.

“There are certain politicians, and Mr Papadopoulos is one of them, and I say this responsibly and on the record, who do not want a solution to the Cyprus problem.

“And the reason is this: a solution is what the parties agree to. But what Mr Papadopoulos is suggesting is not mutually acceptable to the parties concerned.”

Coming back, Papadopoulos said he felt insulted by Kasoulides’ remark that he was against a solution, demanding a retraction.

“It is clear that, faced with a spectacular foreign policy and EU policy flop, the foreign minister has lost his cool.”

The DIKO leader demanded also that the president immediately convene the National Council to discuss the EU visa waiver for Turkish nationals, which he called a “highly negative and dangerous development.”

For his part, government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides pointed out that the European Commission’s proposal is not binding on the Republic of Cyprus or on the European Council.

“It appears that Mr Papadopoulos is uninformed about EU procedures. The Commission’s proposal still has to be assessed by the EU member states, that is to say the European Council.”

Christodoulides avoided stating the government’s position on the Commission proposal before the European Council convened.

“There is no danger whatsoever of Cyprus being flooded with Turkish nationals,” he added.

Liberalising visa rules for Turkey, a Muslim country of 79 million people, is a contentious issue among EU states, but Brussels is pushing ahead to keep a migration accord in place that should help ease Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War Two.

Turkey should get visa-free travel to the European Union, the EU executive said but it should not think that its deal with the EU on controlling migration gives it a ‘free ride’.

That controversial deal agreed in March helped sharply cut arrivals of refugees and migrants to Europe but Ankara says it would scrap it should the bloc reneges on its promise to liberalise visa rules, in theory by the end of June.

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