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Our View: We’ve admitted the folly of sanctions, but is new approach too late?


The pursuit of sanctions against Turkey is no longer the priority of the government’s foreign policy. This was made clear both by President Anastasiades and his new foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides last Sunday. The former made this revelation to journalists after a church service while the latter spoke extensively about the folly of sanctions in a newspaper interview published on the same day.

Although the “sanctions would remain at the technical committee for further processing”, the government will switch its focus to confidence-building measures (CBMs), said Anastasiades, avoiding mentioning the self-evident – these were mutually exclusive policies. You can either work at improving relations through CBMs or at worsening relations by demanding sanctions. Under the circumstances, the continued processing of sanctions by technical committee is for face-saving purposes, the government unwilling to admit defeat in something it had invested so much in the last two-and-a-half years.

Anastasiades’ confidence-building proposals envisage the handing over of the fenced area of Varosha to the UN, opening of Tymbou (Ercan) airport to direct flights under the UN and the opening of Famagusta port to foreign trade, under EU supervision. With direct flights and lifting of the trade embargo the isolation of the Turkish would end. In exchange he had asked for the implementation for the additional Ankara protocol, opening Turkey’s ports to Cyprus-flagged ships and allowing Cyprus planes into Turkish airspace. These proposals were “an indication of a positive step in the efforts we are making to create the suitable and positive climate”, he said.

Kasoulides was more direct in an interview he gave Kathimerini newspaper, admitting the pursuit of sanctions had failed. He said: “The discussion at political level at the Foreign Affairs Council has been exhausted as there are member-states that do not want to impose sanctions on Turkey. They say they consider sanctions counter-productive as they would not make Turkey change stance in Varosha, but what was needed was confidence-building measures.”

For more than two years, the public was being served idea of sanctions by the former foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides, claiming these would be imposed at the next European Council meeting, which never came. His hard line may have helped him build his presidential candidacy, but it did not serve the Greek Cypriots in any way. The pursuit of sanctions was an example of the foreign policy for domestic consumption that he seemed to specialise in while ignoring how it undermined the credibility of the government and its talks’ message abroad.

Who could believe the Cyprus government was sincerely interested in the resumption of the peace process, as it repeated ad nauseam, when its sole foreign policy objective was to punish Turkey for violating the Cypriot EEZ and opening the fenced area of Varosha. Even the violations of the Cypriot EEZ were considered by many countries as an understandable reaction by Turkey to Cyprus’ decision to proceed with its energy plans while attempting to exclude it from the hydrocarbons’ exploitation of the Eastern Mediterranean, through its trilateral alliances and the EastMed pipeline. They condemned the violations of the Cypriot EEZ by Turkey, but at the same time urged talks to ease tensions and resolve the exploration disputes. Events of the last few weeks signalled the demise of Anastasiades’ ambitious energy plans.

The EastMed project that antagonised Turkey will never happen and last Sunday Anastasiades even spoke about Turkey’s participation in the energy planning of the region, in the event of a settlement. In such a case Turkey would have a say and role to play with regard to its participation in the deliberations about the exploitation of the natural wealth, he said. This was not what he and his foreign minister were saying a couple of months ago. The government’s retreat is complete. There could have been no clearer admission that attempting to exclude Turkey from the exploitation of natural gas (the failure of this initiative was confirmed by the warming of relations between Turkey and our energy partner Israel) and then pursuing its punishment was misguided and would cement the dead end we are at.

In his interview in Kathimerini, Kasoulides spoke about the mistaken tactics that left the government’s credibility in tatters. “Without saying someone is to blame, we went through the phase of probable lack of trustworthiness and enter a different orbit that gives me the right to hope of better prospects in the coming weeks or months,” he said in the interview. In his recent trip to Washington, during which he met the Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top officials of the State Department, Kasoulides said there was a very positive response to the proposal for CBMs and offers of help. There had also been a positive response in Brussels and he plans to give a detailed presentation of the proposal at Monday’s Foreign Affairs Council and at his meeting with the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

The abandonment of the Christodoulides policy that took us backwards, for which Anastasiades, as president, was primarily to blame was long overdue. The drastic shift initiated by the pragmatic Kasoulides – and accepted by Anastasiades as the only way out of the dead end he led the country to – was imperative and we can only express the hope that it is not a case of too little, too late.

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