Nicosia did not decide to veto an EU decision to impose sanctions against Belarus unless the bloc also took action against Turkey, Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides said on Wednesday.
Cyprus did, however, insist that the agreement at foreign ministers’ level on the discussion of both issues be implemented, he said.
Numerous reports have cited EU officials accusing Cyprus of blocking any progress on sanctions against Belarus unless sanctions against Turkey were also discussed, but Christodoulides said such reports are not what they seem.
He refuted claims that Cyprus was vetoing decisions or being isolated because of this.
“This is not how things operate in the EU,” Christodoulides told state broadcaster CyBC.
He explained that during the informal meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Berlin earlier this month there was a long discussion on Belarus and Turkey, and it was jointly agreed that these two issues ought to be promptly promoted and efforts completed before the foreign affairs council (FAC) meeting on Monday.
After the meeting in Brussels, word got out, however, that the FAC failed to agree on sanctions against Belarus because of Cyprus’ demands on Turkey.
But Christodoulides said it wasn’t so.
He told CyBC on Wednesday that during discussion in Brussels, a number of countries backed the position that the process should be based on the political agreement in Berlin.
“Some other countries, headed by Germany, said that in view of discussion at the European Council on the whole spectrum of EU-Turkey relations, their approach, of the German Chancellor, is that this issue is referred to the European Council,” Christodoulides said.
“We said, that based on the agreement, both issues ought to be promoted to the European Council, which is what happened, nothing more, nothing less.”
He said that when a state strongly about an issue it is placed high on the agenda and if unanimity cannot be reached, this is respected and consultations are promoted at the European Council
“It is not as if there was a vote and Cyprus vetoed a decision,” he said. “In no case do we link the sanctions. In this case, there is political agreement achieved at foreign affairs ministers’ level.”
He said Nicosia will wait and see what will happen at the European Council.
The European Council that was scheduled to take place this Thursday and Friday but was postponed for a week after President Charles Michel went into quarantine because one of his security officers tested positive for Covid-19.
“It offers another week of diplomatic efforts for de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean,” Christodoulides said.
He recalled that the EU and especially Germany have launched initiatives for de-escalation. Though it is not a precondition, he said, current developments will also affect the EU’s decisions.
On statements by France’s EU minister, Clément Beaune, who reportedly called on Cyprus to stop blocking EU sanctions against Belarus by linking them to restrictive measures against Turkey, Christodoulides said that was not all the French official said.
He was referring to an interview of Beaune with Politico. Christodoulides said the French minister, who was in Cyprus just last week, also said in his interview he understands why Nicosia did this, because the EU did not collectively respond to Cyprus’ demand.
Beaune, according to Politico, said that Cyprus was insisting on the link because “they have a doubt about the level of support from the EU” in reacting to Turkey’s activities, and argued that a strong signal of support could help to resolve the deadlock.
Christodoulides also commented on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s proposal on Tuesday for a regional conference with all Mediterranean coastal states, including the Turkish Cypriots, to address tensions over maritime boundaries and hydrocarbon exploration in the region.
“Everyone knows that Turkey’s illegal actions off Cyprus have nothing to do with the Turkish Cypriots’ rights, it is not even considered a proposal, it cannot be discussed,” Christodoulides said.
He added that putting forth demands that everyone knows cannot be accepted, was an indication of how ‘sincere’ Turkey is when it says it wants to find a solution.
Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign minister’ Kudret Ozersay in the meantime, criticised Christodoulides over his statements that Nicosia would not agree to the participation of Turkish Cypriots.
Ozersay said in a written statement that just as a decision on the future of Cyprus must be made by the two communities in two separate referendums, the same ought to be done to resolve the gas and maritime issues jurisdiction.
He also accused the Greek Cypriot side of being ‘spoiled’ and of trying to usurp the Turkish Cypriots’ rights. He added that neither Christodoulides nor the Greek Cypriot side have the sufficient power to exclude Turkish Cypriots from such a conference or any similar meeting.