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‘We will all pay the price if Cyprus problem is not resolved’

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President Nikos Christodoulides and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar (Photo Christos Theodorides)

Both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots will pay the price if the Cyprus problem is not solved, President Nikos Christodoulides said in an interview with Turkish Cypriot media.

The president sought to strike a conciliatory tone in the hour-long interview but that was briefly dashed during a discussion between him and the interviewer on the starkly different understanding of key historical events in 1963.

But Christodoulides sought to hammer home that the 2017 Crans Montana talks were the closest that the Cyprus problem ever came to being solved, serving the basis for future negotiations.

“[It was] the first time in the entire history of negotiations of the Cyprus problem in which we came so close to a solution was Crans Montana,” he said.

That, Christodoulides argued, proves that it can be solved.

But since then, Turkey and the north have consistently stated that negotiations based on a federal solution are dead and instead both now advocate a two-state solution.

Earlier in the interview, however, the president was asked: “Do you have any regrets that you left the table in Crans Montana in 2017? Because you are the person who got the blame.”

“They always blame me,” Christodoulides said, and both men chuckled.

He continued: “First of all, we didn’t leave the table of negotiations [in 2017] – actually it was the secretary general who said that it’s over, [so] we stopped.”

“I didn’t participate, I wasn’t there during the ‘famous’ dinner that started on July 6 and ended on July 7 without a result – I wasn’t there, so nobody can blame me” Christodoulides said, adding it was the former president and chief negotiator who were present.

But since the collapse of the talks in 2017 the Cyprus problem has gone years without official negotiations.

Pressing the need to resume talks, Christodoulides said that he will meet the UN secretary general in New York next week and would further wish to speak with Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar as well.

“[In the] hope that the meetings will lead to developments that will bring us closer to the resumption of talks,” the president said.

“I respect Mr Tatar and I’m here to work with him – he’s the leader of my Turkish Cypriot compatriots whom they have chosen,” he said.

Adding a sense of urgency for the need of developments, Christodoulides warned that: “There is a price if we don’t solve the Cyprus problem, us as Cypriots, are the ones who are going to pay the price because there is a price for not solving the Cyprus problem.”

The reporter pressed the president on the widely different approach between the two communities on the basis for negotiations – those of a federal solution and a two-state solution.

“There is no possibility for the recognition of a separate state in Cyprus,” Christodoulides responded.

Elsewhere in the interview, Christodoulides said: “Turkey will only solve the Cyprus problem if it feels the benefits of a solution are more than the benefits it has from the current status quo.”

Christodoulides reiterated his push to gain greater EU involvement in the Cyprus problem negotiations, stating that the bloc was a key reason as to why they came so close to a solution in Crans Montana.

Asked whether he supports Turkey’s full membership of the EU he replied “of course”.

“We cannot change geography, I prefer to have a neighbour that is close to the EU and I’m ready to support this process,” the president added.

Christodoulides offered a positive view of the path forward, but about halfway through the interview the tone shifted with more controversial parts of Cyprus’ history being raised, such as why the Turkish invasion happened in the first place.

The reporter asked: “We [Turkish Cypriots] are not getting the rights of the Republic of Cyprus and that’s why we are facing these problems now… How can you say everything is a problem [stemming] from Turkey’s occupation?”

“Because you decided to leave the Republic of Cyprus,” Christodoulides said.

That prompted a challenging “we decided to leave?” from the interviewer.

“Of course, because in 1963 you decided to leave the Republic of Cyprus and in 1974 we had what we had,” the president replied, referring to UN resolutions as a matter of record.

Both agreed to leave the past behind.

Another topic raised in the interview is the expected announcement of unilateral measures by the Republic to improve the daily lives of Turkish Cypriots.

Indeed, the reporter pressed him on the controversial decision of the government to not provide citizenship to children of mixed marriages between Turkish Cypriots and Turkish nationals.

Christodoulides explained that he has held meetings with Turkish Cypriot organisations and people to listen to their concerns and find possible solutions.

He emphasised, however, that the measures will not be announced just yet – instead offering that they will be made public within the coming days or weeks.

Christodoulides was interviewed on Wednesday and it was published late on Friday night.

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