Interview with Toumazos Tsielepis, member of the Political Bureau of AKEL, Head of the Cyprus Problem Office of AKEL and International Law expert
Interview with Toumazos Tsielepis, member of the Political Bureau of AKEL, Head of the Cyprus Problem Office of AKEL and International Law expert
Sunday 19th January 2020, “EPOHI” weekly newspaper
Is 2020 truly a critical year for the solution of the Cyprus problem as AKEL points out in its New Year message?
TT: 2020 is indeed a critical year for the Cyprus problem. Precious time has already been lost since the collapse of the Crans Montana conference in July 2017. We are now obliged to wait until April for the voting process in the occupied territories. Till then, we don’t expect anything substantive to happen.
From there onwards, an effort will once again be made which, if it does not lead to a successful conclusion within a reasonable time period, then the Cyprus problem will likely be put on hold indefinitely with disastrous consequences for our country and people. A lot of course will depend on who will be the next leader of the Turkish Cypriot community. It is our wish and hope that the forces rejecting the federal solution and preferring the definitive partition of Cyprus won’t prevail.
What is happening in the Eastern Mediterranean goes far beyond the region’s standard dangerous situation. What is this down to?
TT: Undoubtedly, the situation in our volatile region is deteriorating rapidly. We witness the consequences of the collapse at Crans Montana and prolonged stagnation on the Cyprus problem that naturally followed.
The contemporary history of the Cyprus problem since 1974 demonstrates that the worst fait accompli are attempted precisely in periods where there is no ongoing negotiation procedure (for example, the proclamation of an illegal regime in the occupied areas, the official turn of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership towards confederation, etc.). All the more so this time, since Turkey was relieved of any responsibilities for the failure of 2017. Turkey subsequently seized the opportunity and is proceeding to provocative and illegal actions at no essential cost.
The diplomacy of hydrocarbons
Recently, a lively debate has begun in Athens on the occasion of the signing of the EastMed pipeline (EastMed). What is your opinion in general and more specifically in relation to Cyprus?
TT: All states have sovereign rights over natural resources within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and, as a result of their continental shelf. The signing of the EastMed agreement is part of the framework of exercising these rights. We must make it clear that this isn’t an agreement for the construction of a pipeline, but simply an agreement setting out the necessary international legal framework, so that if and when companies decide to proceed with the project, they will have the consent of the contracting states.
From there onwards, for this decision to be taken on such an ambitious project numerous technical-economic and political difficulties must be overcome. The costs are so high that to make the pipeline economically viable today’s gas prices in Europe will have to be almost doubled. In addition, the enormous depth of the sea around Crete is considered by some experts as prohibitive, while the area itself is highly seismic because the tectonic plates of Africa and Eurasia intersect there.
Particularly in relation to Cyprus, AKEL’s position is that natural gas must be utilised to act as an incentive to solve our political problem, and for that reason any energy planning must take this factor into account as well.
Has the diplomacy of hydrocarbons yielded results, if we were to make an assessment right now? Did AKEL, when accepting this choice of hydrocarbons, set preconditions such as the solution of the Cyprus problem?
TT: AKEL believes that hydrocarbons must be used as a powerful incentive for a solution of the Cyprus problem and is pursuing this goal with consistency. Already during the Presidency of comrade Demetris Christofias, having foreseen the ramifications that would subsequently follow, we sought and agreed on numerous convergences which in essence solve the burning issue of hydrocarbons simultaneously with the solution of the Cyprus problem.
More specifically, we agreed that all the maritime zones, explicitly including the EEZ too, will be a federal competence, while the same will apply to natural resources. This is a mutually beneficial convergence. On the one hand, the single sovereignty and single international personality are confirmed, and on the other hand natural resources, including natural gas, will belong to both communities regardless of whether they are located in the north or south of the island. Furthermore, how the federal revenues, which will include the revenues from the hydrocarbons, should be allocated between the two federated units of the future federation, was also agreed.
Last but not least, it was agreed that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea will be included in the list of Treaties of the Federal Republic of Cyprus. This means that as regards the only pending issue after the solution, namely the delimitation of the EEZ with Turkey, federal Cyprus will be guided by the relevant provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. That is to say, talks will be held and, if no agreement is reached within a reasonable period of time, there should be a recourse to the International Court of Justice in The Hague or to another international organisation.
These convergences, coupled with the fact that Demetris Christofias was seeking with consistency a solution of the Cyprus problem, enabled us to then proceed to the first drilling with positive results, without Turkey being in a position to react.
Compare that with what is happening today and you will easily draw conclusions. The importance of these convergences is also demonstrated by the fact that the Secretary General of the UN recalls them in the Reports he submits.
To what extent is Turkey right to talk about a plan to exclude it as regards the alliance forged between Greece, Israel, Cyprus or the EastMed?
TT: It depends on what it means by an exclusion plan. It is legitimate that Turkey is being isolated because it is violating the Law of the Sea, but it can’t be isolated and excluded from the energy planning in the region, provided of course that it respects international law. Turkey, of course, has a peculiar notion of the UN Law of the Sea and is claiming much more than it is entitled to, but it also has rights as a state with a very long coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey cannot talk about plans to exclude it, when it is projecting outlooks that refer to the logic of an Ottoman Empire. If it wants to cooperate, negotiate and/or accept a recourse to the International Court of Justice, then no one will be able to exclude it from the overall planning in the area.
We don’t understand the reasons for the collapse at Crans Montana
It said generally – and also implied by leading officials of governing DISY party if we judge by their participation in the “Decision for Peace” initiative group – that President Anastasiades has shifted his position to supporting the solution of Confederation. AKEL accuses him of that too, namely that he favours the establishment of two states. What exactly is the truth?
TT: We are a small country and nothing can be kept secret. It is well-known that that’s precisely what many, including Turkey’s Foreign Minister Cavusoglou, charge him of. I do not want to comment any further, but will just point out that we do not understand why President Anastasiades left Mont Peleran when a convergence was reached on the percentages in relation to the territory to be under the administration of each community, which was the main subject of discussion.
Furthermore, we do not understand the reasons for the collapse at the Crans Montana conference when the Secretary General of the UN, the European Union, and even Britain supported the position of Cyprus and Greece in favour terminating the Treaty of Guarantee and putting an end to any intervention rights from the day after the solution of the Cyprus problem, for the speedy withdrawal of the occupation troops and a mechanism of implementation of the solution from which the guarantor powers would be excluded. In fact, the UN Secretary General in his Report following the Crans Montana collapse, noted meaningfully that Turkey cooperated on this issue. Certainly what happened doesn’t change.
What is today important is that at the Berlin meeting it was reaffirmed that the basis of the solution remains bi-zonal, bi-communal federation and political equality as this is described in Resolution 716 of the UN Security Council. We hope that after this development any thoughts of a confederation will end so that Mr. Cavusoglou can also stop relentlessly calling on the Greek Cypriots to decide whether they are seeking federation, confederation or a two states solution, whilst clarifying that Turkey is open to all these options…
After the Berlin tripartite meeting under the auspices of UN Secretary General Mr. Guterres, we had the recent text on the renewal of the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus that stated that, “there is no stability in the region without the solution of the Cyprus problem”. How can the talks on the Cyprus problem be resumed? Who can exert pressure?
TT: From the very first day of the conference at Crans Montana, the Secretary General of the UN had submitted a specific proposal on the way the procedure should continue and since then he has continued to insist on this point in all the reports, without exception, he has tabled to the Security Council. That is to say, a proposal for a packaged negotiation of the six core issues at a conference under UN auspices at two tables.
On one table, there will be a discussion of security and guarantees with the participation of the two communities, the guarantor powers and the EU as an observer. On the other table, the two communities will discuss territory, property, effective participation in the bodies and decisions of the federal government and the equal treatment of Greek and Turkish citizens.
The Secretary General considers that if we arrive at a strategic understanding on the six key issues, we will in essence render the solution unavoidable as only secondary issues would then be pending.
We fully agree with this approach, which is wrongly portrayed as an intermediate solution, and we are exerting as much pressure as we can in the direction (of this proposal). For sure Greece can and must make its contribution towards overcoming the obstacles so that we can move forward.
This was the difference that remained to be solved
Will what has been agreed upon so far be considered as given if talks resume? Does the Turkish Cypriot side accept this? In the position it expressed last June, it said that we should continue from where we had remained with all the pre-existing convergences recorded, the Guterres Framework and the informal document for the implementation of the solution.
TT: Following on from what I have mentioned beforehand, I should add that the UN Secretary General insists precisely on continuing the negotiation from where we had remained with the 2014 Joint Declaration, the convergences recorded so far, the Guterres Framework of June 30th 2017 and the informal document for the implementation of the solution which explicitly excludes any executive or editorial role for the guarantor powers and restricts them to a strictly consultative role. Indeed, since April 2018, the Turkish Cypriot leader Mr. Akinci has accepted the Secretary General’s comprehensive proposal calling for a discussion of his framework with a view towards reaching a strategic understanding.
The Secretary General in his subsequent Reports states that we had come very close to reaching this goal, while more specifically on the issue of political equality and effective participation, he states that this had been fully agreed at Crans Montana and I can assure you that this is exactly the case. Unfortunately, this issue has subsequently been demonized and presented as representing the biggest obstacle to moving forward.
Did the Greek government in the 2017 procedure, I believe, set the term “zero guarantees and zero troops”, which Mr. Anastasiades indeed accepted afterwards as well? What was AKEL’s position then?
TT: In the 2017 procedure, our long-standing and correct position for the abolition of guarantees and any intervention rights and for the speedy withdrawal of the occupying troops with a credible implementation mechanism was indeed put forward. As I previously said, we had won universal support on this issue and Turkey was alone, while the Secretary General noted that Turkey cooperated eventually. However, the “zero troops-zero guarantees” position needs clarification. Unquestionably all the occupying troops must withdraw, but on the island there are also contingents of ELDYK and TOURDYK soldiers. These soldiers are not considered as occupying troops, given that their presence is provided for in the Treaty of Alliance of 1960. Without any doubt this constitutes an unbalanced and controversial Treaty, but these contingents should not be confused with the occupying troops. The position of the Greek Cypriot side and Greece on the issue of contingents was the sunset clause of the Treaty of Alliance, while Turkey held the position for a review clause.
This was the difference that remained to be resolved at the level of Prime Ministers and not the Treaty of Guarantee or the occupation troops or anything beyond that as it is being widely portrayed and wrongly believed.
Against partition and confederation
How did we arrive at the collapse at the Crans Montana conference?
TT: It was the informal Guterres document on the implementation of the solution which Greece considered as positive, and President Anastasiades had rejected for reasons only he himself knows. As for the Framework of the Secretary General, the positions expressed were very contradictory, something which continued even after the collapse (of the Crans Montana conference), while at the Trilateral meeting in Berlin it was eventually accepted. You will probably remember the endless stories surrounding the supposed existence of “disappeared minutes” of 4th July, so I won’t expand any further.
As to how the collapse at Crans Montana occurred, I have nothing to add apart from the fact that there are two completely contrary narratives. That is to say, one narrative of the UN Secretary General who considers that a historic opportunity was lost and another one projected by President Anastasiades who claims that Turkey did not accept the abolition of the Treaty of Guarantee.
However, no protests whatsoever were made (by President Anastasiades) towards Mr. Guterres in relation to all that he had concluded (in his Report).
In your opinion, did we come very close to achieving the solution? What forces prevented it, with what plans and goals?
TT: There is no doubt in my mind that we really did come very close to resolving the six core issues. The disagreements were subsequently presented with the culmination of, as I have already mentioned, the demonization of political equality, an issue which with the conclusion of the conference was basically resolved. I wouldn’t like to expand on what forces had prevented it, apart of course from those well-known who are forever disagreeing, nor to expand on their motives too.
I only have one thing I’d like to say.
AKEL will never compromise with partition or confederation, which is tantamount to a solution of two separate states. Partition means surrendering 40% of the territories and 60% of the coastline of the Republic of Cyprus. Partition will lead with mathematical certainty to having land borders with Turkey. It means that not a single inch of land or property will be returned. It means the continuation of the colonization (of the occupied areas). It means that the Republic of Cyprus will not be able to fully exercise its sovereign rights in the maritime area around Cyprus. It means, ultimately, that the Greek Cypriots will achieve absolutely nothing from what they are asserting, while the Turkish Cypriots will disappear as a distinct community.
There is the very important problem and obstacle to resuming the talks, namely Turkey’s illegal actions in the Cyprus EEZ. How can this be addressed?
TT: It must be understood that if and when talks will resume, Turkey must find a way to terminate its provocative actions. If it fails to do so, then it should at least bear the responsibility and the Secretary General of the UN will no longer be able to make the conclusions he records today (in his Reports), namely that it isn’t Turkey’s fault. I am certain that if President Anastasiades, albeit belatedly, accepts – in practice and not in the words – what the Secretary General proposes, then the talks will resume.
Remembering an important comrade who passed away recently, Demetris Christofias, do you want to evaluate his work as President of the Republic together with the left-wing Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat for the solution of the Cyprus problem?
TT: Comrade Demetris, during his Presidency, made a tremendous effort with Talat, resulting in significant convergences which were recorded by the then Special Representative of the UN Secretary General Alexander Downer. They were extremely valuable convergences. I have already referred to those convergences concerning the EEZ.
Permit me to indicatively add that the Turkish Cypriot side for the first time categorically accepted the single sovereignty, single international personality and single citizenship. The implementation of the three basic freedoms (movement, establishment, acquisition of property) without any restrictions was agreed, as well as the convergence agreed that one Turkish citizen would correspond to 4 Greek citizens settling on the island (a 4:1 population ratio) and so much more.
Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to do so as Eroglu assumed the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community and the effort wasn’t completed. However, these convergences remained. They proved to be a catalyst in the years that followed, and remain a solid basis upon on which the effort for the solution can move forward.
 The 1960 Treaty of Alliance provided for the stationing on the island of the Greek Force in Cyprus (ELDYK) and a corresponding force called the Turkish Force in Cyprus (TOURDYK) composed of 950 and 650 soldiers respectively.
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