Turkish Demands Undermine Cyprus Unity, Says Anastasiades

Cyprus' president Nicos Anastasiades smiles during an interview with the Associated Press at the presidential palace in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Tuesday Sept. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Turkey’s repeated provocations, including sending energy drillships into Cyprus’ sovereign waters, and demands for the minority Turkish-Cypriot side unlawfully occupying the northern third of the island since 1974 have put the skids on any hopes of reviving reunification talks, President Nicos Anastasiades said.

Just ahead of a planned meeting with Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly annual opening in New York later in September, Anastasiades said Turkey is undercutting efforts to quickly revive peace talks aimed at solving Cyprus’ decades-long ethnic split by imposing unacceptable terms.

He said said Turkey’s “obsession” to permanently station troops, secure military intervention rights and entrench its control over all of Cyprus under any peace deal is unsettling Greek Cypriots and diminishing the prospects of a peace accord.

The last round of unity talks fell apart in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Akinci and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said they would never remove a 35,000-strong standing army on the occupied territory and wanted the right of military intervention.

Turkey and Greece, along with the United Kingdom – the former Colonial ruler which still has military bases there – are guarantors of security for the island, along with a UN peacekeeping contingent keeping the two sides apart.

Anastasiades said Turkey’s demand to grant the Turkish Cypriots decision-making parity within an envisioned Federal government “would, in effect, enable the minority community to determine policy and make the decisions,” although he earlier had been willing to let a Turkish-Cypriot be President every other term.

He said the Turkish Cypriots’ economic dependence on Turkey and the “imposition” of Turkey’s will in their internal affairs means that ultimately, decisions would be made by Erdogan, who is defying Cyprus and the United States demand to pull back energy ships in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) where American energy giant ExxonMobil and other foreign companies are licensed.

“It’s another way of controlling the whole of the new state of affairs or the entire state, which will essentially be transformed into a protectorate,” Anastasiades told the Associated Press in an interview.

“You can’t accept such provisions that would turn a state into the puppet of another state, but also become the only example in the world where potentially a peace deal would collapse the next day,” he said.

Cyprus is a member of the European Union that Turkey has been trying to join since 2005 while refusing to recognize the legitimate government and barring its ships and planes with Erdogan thumbing his nose repeatedly at the bloc and ignoring soft sanctions meant to get out his ships.

Anastasiades faulted Turkey for scuttling a mediation effort by U.N. envoy Jane Holl Lute earlier this month aimed at outlining the conditions under which a fresh round of formal negotiations would begin and for rejecting his offer to share 30 percent of energy revenues.

Erdogan and Akinci said that wouldn’t be enough and wanted their side to take part in the licensing process and have a greater say in how the island operates as the Turkish-Cypriot side is isolated in the world community, recognized only by Turkey.

He said although he had sketched out with Akinci what those parameters would be, Turkey’s diktats to make Turkish Cypriot decision-making parity a precondition to a resumption of talks set the process back.

Anastasiades said although he’s ready to get peace talks going immediately, they can’t resume as long as Turkey continues to unlawfully drill for gas in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.

“This is where Turkey will be tested on whether it wants talks or not,” said Anastasiades. “I don’t think anyone can negotiate under threat.”

He said Turkey’s call for Cyprus to suspend its drilling in exchange for Ankara to cease its activities in Cypriot waters is non-negotiable because it would “equate legal actions with illegal ones” and undermine Cyprus’ sovereign rights.

He said Akinci’s proposal for a joint Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot committee to oversee drilling activities was dismissed on the same grounds.

He told the AP that he pitched a counter-proposal that included the establishment of an escrow account into which a portion of future gas proceeds earmarked for Turkish Cypriots — roughly proportionate to their population size — would be deposited. Turkish Cypriots would even be able to access those funds even before a peace deal is signed as long as Turkey recognized the borders of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.

Anastasiades also said that Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriots would think long and hard about “forcefully provoking the international community” by moving ahead with a stated intent to settle the fenced-off, uninhabited suburb of Varosha. He said such a move would clash with United Nations Security Council decisions prohibiting such actions.

Anastasiades said Cyprus’ strengthened relations with neighboring countries including Egypt and Israel coupled with strained U.S.-Turkey ties has enhanced the island nation’s role as an agent of regional stability.

He said U.S. interests are well-served by Cyprus’ closer ties to Washington on many levels including steps to counter money laundering and capital movements in aid of terrorism.

Anastasiades said bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican that aims to lift an “ill-advised” U.S. arms embargo imposed on Cyprus more than 30 years ago would be a symbolic gesture underscoring improved ties.