The Foreign Affairs minister of Cyprus, Nicos Christodoulides in an exclusive interview with IBNA speaks about his new role in his country’s politics, about Cyprus’s next moves regarding security strengthening and about the stability in the region. The Cypriot governmental official responds to Mustafa Akinci over accepting the Gutteres framework and analyses Cyprus’s energy planning and the role of the Cyprus issue resolution in connection with exploiting natural resources.
Minister, which is hardest, managing the communication of government policy or shaping policy as Minister of Foreign Affairs?
Such a question could not be answered simply because both qualities are very demanding and require clear thinking, a creative and constructive mood and, above all, collective work.
To begin with, in my former role as government spokesperson, I remind you that during the first Anastasiades administration, we were called upon to manage a difficult economic situation, tell the public some harsh truths and apply a strict and ambitious program. Communication management of such a situation was not easy at all, as implementation of government planning required great patience, absolute honesty with the people, and full cooperation with parliamentary parties. A bit later, up to the summer of 2017, we had negotiations of the Cyprus issue [to handle] and there was a need to keep the public continuously informed of developments. Generally, especially from the position of government spokesperson who is called upon to communicate with the people on a daily basis, your main guide should be honesty with the people and presenting the real dimension of things, without any embellishment. Today, society has moved way ahead of every one of us who is involved in public life; it is in a position of complete knowledge and perception. Therefore, as a spokesperson who is responsible for the government’s communication strategy, you have to deal with a demanding audience that calls for honesty and straight talk.
With regard to my new duties as Foreign Minister and with the aim of shaping and promoting an integrated, multidisciplinary and effective foreign policy that has been successfully implemented by my predecessor, we are called upon, on a daily basis, to meet challenges relating, among other things, to our sovereignty and territorial integrity, but also to create and exploit opportunities for developing important partnerships with third countries so as to promote our strategic interests and our geopolitical priorities at regional and international level. As you understand, this is a very demanding post, clearly different from that of the Government Spokesperson, which I approach with a very high sense of responsibility. I hope to respond to these difficult tasks and soon have tangible results to present.
Since you took up your duties at the Foreign Ministry, you have embarked upon a marathon of visits and meetings with counterparts. How much has the image of the Republic of Cyprus changed on the international scene? How has the cooperation shaped in recent years helped?
It is a fact that it is necessary to further exploit and strengthen the existing network of partnerships, and it was in this context that I felt it necessary to visit all the countries of the region immediately after my appointment, so that I would have the opportunity to exchange views and interact with my counterparts, while promoting issues of common interest.
We believe that the image of Cyprus in the region and on the wider international scene is positive, as the country is widely recognized as a credible partner, a guarantor of security and a pillar of democracy and stability in an admittedly unstable and unpredictable region. To this end, the network of tripartite partnerships promoted in recent years by Cyprus, in close cooperation and co-ordination with Greece, has also helped to a significant extent. The relationships that have been developed with Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon are strategic. They have created a highly effective multidisciplinary mechanism for ongoing consultation, giving added value to these partnerships. We believe that through these tripartite cooperation mechanisms, the common challenges and problems of our region can be tackled more effectively.
In relation to the wider objectives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and to be more specific, an objective linked to the network of tripartite partnerships is to bring together all our collaborations in an informal regional forum that will become a lever for security and cooperation in the region. At the same time, we are also working to strengthen our already excellent relations with the Gulf countries, while another important objective is the institutional interconnection of the summit of the seven Mediterranean EU Member States with our neighboring countries. Of course, taking into account the Cyprus issue, deepening relations with the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council remains a high priority, along with strengthening our active participation in EU affairs and shaping the Common Foreign Policy of the Union.
We are in a region of particular geostrategic importance for both the EU and the international system in general; a region where there are developments, problems, controversies and different approaches over time. If you like, this is why there is a special interest in our region. The choice is either to remain a mere spectator of developments, with all the consequences that such an approach bears; or engage in meaningful and sincere dialogue with the States of the region, even on issues where disagreements and / or different approaches may exist, in order to find solutions, through joint actions, understand the real causes of these disagreements and how they can be overcome. In other words, you have to claim active participation in the developments and definitely not remain a passive spectator.
Besides, all these developments in our region were one of the main reasons that led us to the decision to proceed, on the one hand, to strengthen our bilateral relations with all neighboring States and, on the other hand, to recommend these Tripartite Mechanisms . Through an open and honest dialogue, we can explore how joint actions can meet the challenges in the region and capitalize on the opportunities that exist, always for the benefit of the peoples of the region.
If we examine the role of Cyprus in the region over time, we can easily conclude that we have not claimed, in its entirety, the role that we could potentially play. If you like, it was also a normal development because of our one-dimensional foreign policy and the zero sum approach which was a major feature of our foreign policy.
In recent years, and especially after our accession to the EU, we are offered a first-rate opportunity to play a leading role. However, in order to achieve this, we should not simply confine ourselves to declarations, such as “we are the bridge between Europe and the Middle East”. To retain this role, you need to prove [you are worthy of it] via initiatives and actions in both directions, towards the EU and towards the states of the region. And this is precisely the direction in which we work. In the EU, we are actively involved in all the debates concerning our region, resulting in us being considered by Brussels to be among member-states that have the best knowledge of the Middle East and, as a result, they can also propose specific actions on the part of the Union. Let me be more specific with one example: Is it not reasonable for Nicosia and Athens to be in a better position to know the situation in Egypt and how this important country should be approached by the EU, than, for example, Scandinavian countries?
A few weeks ago, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci called for the Guterres framework to be accepted as a strategic agreement. This call has given rise to various interpretations, amplifying the ambiguity over what exactly the Guterres framework is. I would like your comment and which interpretation of the framework is acceptable to you.
First of all, because the issue was discussed in the past – and to an extent it is still being discussed – I would like to be clear once more. There are not many or different interpretations in relation to the framework defined by UN Secretary General Guterres in Crans Montana. The Guterres framework is one and cannot be interpreted otherwise.
Let me also remind you that there was no positive conclusion in Crans Montagna because the positions put forward by the Turkish side, in particular the chapter on Security and Guarantors, were outside the framework set by the UN Secretary-General. And this is confirmed by statements made by Turkish officials, and in particular Mr. Cavusoglu after July 7th, as well as by statements by Turkish Cypriot officials. Recently, was a statement by Mr. Akinci about accepting the Guterres framework. I will not attempt an interpretation of Mr Akinci’s statement, why he chose that particular moment to make the statement, what he might have been aiming at, etc. I will also not comment on the reactions he caused both within the Turkish Cypriot community and Turkey. We are not interested in creating impressions or placing blame. We are only interested in the essence and how the whole process can proceed because we are well aware that the present state of affairs cannot be the solution of the Cyprus problem, and that it poses risks for both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. So, I will not publicly engage in an attempt to interpret Mr. Akinzi’s statement. What we are saying in all directions is that we must capitalize on the opportunity that Mr Guterres decided to send a representative of his to every side involved, so as to explore the real intentions of each side. And this is why we immediately responded to the request of the Secretary General, and why we are sending the message in every direction that this mission should go ahead immediately and definitely not before the elections in Turkey.
Another point of friction concerns the energy planning of the Republic of Cyprus. Mustafa Akinci insists on Turkey’s participation in gas transportation, while demanding a “share” from gas extraction for the Turkish Cypriot community. What will the government do regarding this matter?
With regard to the Turkish Cypriots and the issue of the exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of the Republic of Cyprus, let me first of all mention that the convergence achieved during the Christofias-Talat negotiations remain. This provides for decisions concerning the maritime zones (territorial waters, contiguous zone, continental shelf, exclusive economic zone) as defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, being a federal competence in a reunited Cyprus. This convergence was reaffirmed during the last round of negotiations and was never challenged by the Turkish side.
Additionally, the government has made an important step that tangibly proves its commitment to the principle that the natural wealth of the island belongs to the State and to all citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, and that our aim is to make full use of the prospects in the hydrocarbons sector, on the best possible terms, so as to maximize the benefits for all Cypriot people. To this end, a bill has been tabled in Parliament which provides for the establishment of a state fund for the management of any future hydrocarbon reserves, safeguarding the interests of current and future generations of all Cypriots, on the basis of the Norwegian model, as well as internationally recognized principles and best practices.
The implementation of our energy plans does not depend on developments in the Cyprus issue and is not on the negotiating table. The planning of the Republic of Cyprus began 14 years ago, and it was never a problem in the efforts to resolve the Cyprus issue. What is recently being said and done by the Turkish side have nothing to do with the efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem or the protection of Turkish Cypriot rights. It is solely the result of Turkish plans and aspirations. Our message to Turkey is clear: If Turkey wants to engage in a dialogue on a number of issues that has developed over the last few years between the countries of the region, it should proceed to resolve the Cyprus problem.
How can elections in Turkey affect both future negotiations and relations between Cyprus and Greece with Turkey?
There is an electoral process in Turkey and there is a destabilizing behavior on the part of Ankara that is not limited to Cyprus, as well as other things such as press reports during the recent visit of Mr. Cavusoglu to Cyprus, suggesting a solution of two states or confederation was proposed. According to some estimates which we will have to wait and see if they are actually so, the fact that the election in Turkey will be earlier than planned, could aid the efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem, and put an end to Turkey’s destabilizing behavior, which inevitably affects and Greek-Turkish relations. There are estimates – that may prove to be correct – that both Ankara’s attitude to the Cyprus issue and its actions in the eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean, Syria and elsewhere, are not unrelated to the electoral process in Turkey. In practice, time will tell./IBNA