Turkish Daily News 23 February 2004

Yuksel Soylemez

End game in Cyprus



Question - Is this really the end of the game in Cyprus?

Soylemez - My impression is "yes." Definitely an endgame. I lost a bet with the former German envoy to Ankara, Ambassador Schmidt, that the Cyprus question would be solved by the end of 2003. Better now, a little late, than never.

Question - Why has the Cyprus question now gained such urgency and momentum?

Soylemez - For a number of reasons, but above all else because the strategic island of Cypus is part of the "grand new design" of the extended map of the Middle East. This map encompasses the sources of power and oil and natural gas in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the Caucusus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhistan and Turkmenistan. In other words, the new extended map of the Middle East includes, in addition to the above, Iran, Afghanistan and some states bordering China and Russia, as drawn by the Pentagon cartographers of the United States. This map certainly includes the strategic "aircraft-carrier" island of Cyprus.

Question - There have been sovereign British bases on the island since 1960, haven't there?

Soylemez - Foreign bases in any country are not unusual, but the term "sovereign bases" is, I believe, a new concept of international law and probably unique to Cyprus. In this case a seemingly sovereign country, the Republic of Cyprus, has transferred the sovereignty of part of its territory to another country with an international agreement valid in perpetuity. I do not think there is any other parallel or example anywhere in international practice. This is sufficient to underline the perpetual strategic importance of the island to the British and, through the British, to the Western world and in particular NATO and the United States.

Question - There have been some press reports that the United States is interested in stationing forces on "American bases" on the island?

Soylemez - The information was probably correct. It must have been leaked with the purpose of testing the water and preparing international public opinion. Later the base requirement was denied, but not the stationing of U.S. forces on Cyprus. Obviously they could use the two British bases Akrotiri and Dhikelia even now. I would not be surprised if there is an announcement that U.S. Rapid Development Forces will be stationed in Cyprus once the island is reunited and there is a return to stability as required by the United States.

Question - Do you mean to say that the United States is involved in the solution of the Cyprus problem more than any other power? More than the EU, more than the parties directly concerned, including the guarantor countries, with Britain apparently taking less of an interest in this final stage?

Soylemez - Yes, guarantor Britain, one of the authors of the Annan plan, is now maintaining a low profile for a good reason of its own. It is the Bush administration that is determined to solve the Cyprus problem. This will facilitate putting together one part of the jigsaw puzzle of the grand design of the extended Middle East. Let me add that it is to the advantage of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) and also to the benefit of Turkey that the question be solved now rather than later, to facilitate, even guarantee, the start of Turkey-EU negotiations. The reason for this, of course, is the EU deadline of May 1 for the membership of Greek Cyprus. This is why Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan was so astonishingly forthcoming in his new initiative, first in Davos and later at the White House. It was more than a popularity contest. He was in the White House with President George Bush to repair and reconstruct Turkish-American relations, which were badly damaged because of reneging on promises maeabout Iraq. It was also a display to the world of his government's sincerity in wishing to solve the Cyprus problem.

Question - By making the "volte face" of accepting the Annan plan as a reference point and thus taking a step beyond the Greek position, wasn't he taking the biggest gamble of his political life?

Soylemez - Yes, it was indeed a huge gamble. But remember the dictum, "no risk, no gain." He took a calculated risk, and he knew he had to take it to ensure Turkey's candidature for the EU. He realized that the Bush administration was as much behind the idea of the plan as its main author. It was an American plan as much as it was a British plan.

Question - So the secretary-general's peace initiative was not entirely his own? He had the full support and force of the Bush Administration behind him?

Soylemez - Undoubtedly. The secretary-general needs a success for the United Nations. He is staking his reputation on the success or the failure of the efforts. In other words, he too has taken a calculated gamble, but he must have been given assurances that this time was not like any other time. This is the endgame, even if it is a shotgun marriage of convenience. Success is almost at hand for the United Nations. The success of a solution, whatever form it may take, was virtually guaranteed from the time Bush told Erdogan in the Oval Office, "Solve the Cyprus problem," and Erdogan, as a Turkish samurai, immediately promised him he would do so.

Question - Are the modalities of the agreement important for the United States?

Soylemez - The details are certainly of no consequence, so long as the parties settle their differences within the parameters of the Annan plan. The United Stats is interested in the stability of the Middle East, period.

Question - Both the Turkish and the Greek sides are on record that they do not like the Annan plan. So if they agree on the basis of the plan, despite their dislike and distrust of it, do you think there is a chance of its final agreed version being implemented, in spite of themselves?

Soylemez - Once both sides are within the EU, any problems that may arise have a better chance of being solved "within the family" as the agreement will be in conformity with, and accommodated within, the "acquis" of Cyprus' accession to the EU. It has been said that the Annan plan has the potential to create more problems than it may solve. No plan is perfect or foolproof. It is obvious that there will be problems both in the negotiation and later in the implementation stage. Again remember -- no risk, no gain. Goodwill and sincerity are the key. They should be encouraged to overcome the difficulties with the realization that both will gain from the solution, in other words, to look at the bigger picture.

Question - KKTC President Rauf Denktas was previously extremely critical of the plan. Now he started negotiations on Feb. 19 in Nicosia with Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos on the basis of that "notorious" plan. What made him change his mind?

Soylemez - I don't think he has changed his mind about the Annan plan. He needed to display sincerity and goodwill in order to find a solution in the best interests of the Turkish Cypriots and of Turkey. His people, the Turkish Cypriots, have made it clear that they regard it in their best interest that they should join the EU. He previously held the view that the KKTC should enter the EU with Turkey. Now the urgency of time and political necessity dictate that the KKTC should enter the EU with the Greek Cypriots before Turkey. To facilitate Turkey's eventual accession, it is therefore in Turkey's national interest that the Turkish Cypriots enter the EU. This is both a political bonus and an insurance policy. As times change, adaptation to new developments becomes vital so as not to be left out in the cold. It is no secret that pressure on the part of Prime Minister Erdogan was a determining factor.

Question - Much criticism and many harsh words have been levelled against President Denktas, the chief negotiator, that he was "unaccommodating," a "hard-liner," "obstinate" and that his leadership was "archaic." Did he deserve them?

Soylemez - There is a Turkish saying I have quoted ad nauseam to our Greek friends: "People only throw stones at trees that bear fruit. Solve the problem with Denktas, because you can't solve it with anybody else." He has nothing to lose. His place in history as a great leader is safe. No, I would say that this criticism was unjust. Indeed, now he is hailed for his performance in the New York rounds.

Question - There were reports that he did not want to go to New York because he did not share the views of Prime Minister Erdogan and his government. It was rumored that he even proposed resigning as the chief negotiator.

Soylemez - All this may be true or false, I don't know. But one thing seems obvious, that the Erdogan government decided to keep him as chief negotiator out of their respect for him, and they insisted that he go to New York and sit at the negotiating table on the 38th floor of the United Nations building. He was told not to leave the table in order not to be blamed for the failure of the negotiations. Put yourself in his shoes. Denktas probably said to the prime minister: "But what should I negotiate? What should I accept? What should I reject?" Obviously there were limits or red lines in his mind, and these most likely differed in some respects from those of the Erdogan government.

Question - You must be referring to the road map prepared and discussed in Ankara, giving the bare minimums the Turkish side could accept, mentioned by Erdogan in the plane on his way to South Korea? Do you think a copy of this was also given to the Bush administration?

Soylemez - Most certainly it was, to clarify the Turkish list of minimum requirements, which number only four. Firstly, it stipulated that bizonality should be made clearer in the plan. The percentage of Greek Cypriots who will move to the north should be decreased from 21 percent to 15 percent. They should only be able to vote in the local elections in the north, not the parliamentary elections. For these they should vote in the south. There should be an equal number of members of parliament from both sides, 24 from the Greek Cypriots, 24 from the Turkish Cypriots. The principle of bizonality should also include the principle of bicommunality.

Question - And what is the second Turkish requirement?

Soylemez - That the dividing line of the Turkish and Greek sides should be a straight line so as to make border controls practicable and easier. The Turkish side seems flexible on the issue of the amount of territory to be seceded to the Greek side. The KKTC now controls about 36 percent of the island, and this may be reduced to around 29 percent.

Question - Isn't the third requirement about the question of security?

Soylemez - Yes. The third Turkish requirement is about the continued presence of a Turkish contingent on the island. Their responsibilities should not be diminished but recognized -- and even increased -- though their number may be decreased. They should have freedom of movement, both in normal and emergency situations.

Question - And the fourth requirement? Isn't it related to Turkey's position as a guarantor power according to the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee?

Soylemez - As agreed by both parties in New York on Feb. 13, the secretary-general outlined that the procedure concerning the road map will be that if the two parties cannot agree before March 22, he will bring in the Turkish and Greek sides for a week to try to reach an agreement on the outstanding points, prior to March 29. If that does not work, he is going to fill in the empty spaces himself so that there is an agreement ready to be presented to the referenda simultaneously on April 21. The Turkish position is that when Turkey and Greece enter the picture, their status as guarantors should not be diminished but strengthened. As Annan and Denktas have said, it is the citizens of Greek Cyprus and the KKTC who will make the final decision before the May 1 deadline as to whether or not the island joins the EU as a unified state.

Question - How and when will the national parliaments of the guarantor powers adopt and ratify the final version of the agreed plan?

Soylemez - Originally it was proposed by Annan that the parliaments of Greece and Turkey should ratify an agreement before it was put to referenda of the citizens of the island, but following objections from both sides the procedure will now be reversed, with the mother parliaments and the parliaments of Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus ratifying the agreement after the referenda, which is logical.

Question - Do you think the prerequisites of the Turkish position that we discussed above have any chance of being accommodated one way or another in the negotiations which started on Feb. 19 in Nicosia and will continue until March 22, hopefully in good faith?

Soylemez - These are carefully considered fundamental requirements for Turkey. Firstly, the maintenance of the presence of Turkish Cypriots on the island. Secondly that the island of Cyprus should not pose a potential threat to Turkey. The 1960 agreements met these two prerequisites. The Turkish side cannot accept any formula or plan that negates or removes the rights and responsibilities and the legal status provided for the Turkish Cypriots by the 1960 agreements, which were international agreements deposited and registered as such with the United Nations.

Question - To go back to the history of Cyprus of the 1960s doesn't really help us at this late stage, does it?

Soylemez - It may. History sheds light on the present. On March 4, 1964 the Security Council resolution recognized the Greek Cypriot administration as the government of Cyprus. In fact, this resolution was in contradiction of the 1960 Constitution, which was confederal in nature, based on two peoples, Turkish and Greek as two legally equal but separate communities. Since that resolution, the Turkish Cypriots have had to fight an uphill battle, as the Greek Cypriot leadership did not represent them but only themselves. This anomaly continued for four decades. This was the reason the question has remained unresolved until now because the resolution, which was conceived in theory, was negated by the political realities on the island.

Question - Who is going to pay the cost, tens and millions of dollars, of the repatriation and compensation required under the Annan plan?

Soylemez - Well, a new inclusion in the road map now mentions EU technical and financial assistance for the implementation of the plan. Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen is already on the island, and it has been announced that an initial contribution of 300 million euros will be made to the Turkish north, with a further 10 billion eurod over the next few years. All this will doubtless serve as a carrot and encourage efforts to achieve a solution within the deadline. Indeed, KKTC Prime Minister Talat has said not even a bomb exploding outside his house the night before the start of the negotiations is going to deter him.

Question - You said that the 1960 agreements envisaged a confederal arrangement?

Soylemez - Yes. The 1960 agreements were based on political equality, though not numerical, among the Turks and Greeks. It must be remembered that the Cyprus Republic was not completely sovereign under those agreements. It was not an unfettered but a limited independence. The 1960 agreements were based on domestic and external balances, internally between the two communities on the island, and externally between Turkey and Greece. I say all this to recall the realities of the past so that they may be reflected in the realities of today for the future stability of the island.

Question - Does the Annan plan take into account these Greek and Turkish balances?

Soylemez - Probably the authors did their best to be impartial, but their best was obviously not enough for both sides. Not only was Denktas apprehensive about it, but Karamanlis, who may well be the next prime minister of Greece, is on record using words to the effect, "The Turkish Cypriots will be a minority within the next decade or two when the island will become completely Greek."

Question - Why have the parties lost so much precious time since the secretary-general announced his plan on Sept. 12, 2002?

Soylemez - Because they both hated the plan and were under the misconception that it would go away, which it did not, instead bouncing back. The Greek side wanted to go back to the 1960 system with some modifications. The Greek Cypriots did not want to accept either political equality or two separate states as the constituent elements of the hopefully-to-be United States of Cyprus, or whatever its name may be.

Question - What about bizonality?

Soylemez - The Annan plan is remotely based on bizonality. The Turkish Cypriot side want sovereignty as part and parcel of their territory. But the Annan plan envisages the use of their rights "sovereignly," which is legally less than the concept of sovereignty.

Question - Going back to the first question, why was there all the pressure for an urgent solution now?

Soylemez - Obviously the galvanizing date was Cyprus' accession to the EU on May 1, but equal impetus and pressure was provided by the Bush administration wanting stability and not friction in the enlarged geography of the Middle East. The United States want a free flow of oil at reasonable prices. They want to control the flow of oil from Baku to Ceyhan, which is next door to Cyprus.

Question - Can we congratulate the secretary-general, Kofi Annan, and his special representative, Alvaro De Soto, for their determined efforts and success, instead of villifying them, for making a road map which now seems to be capable of solving the Cyprus problem if the expected referanda approve what has been agreed between the parties and imposed by the secretary-general?

Soylemez - Yes, indeed we should. As Kofi Annan said, never before have the two parties come so close to an agreement, and he congratulated both the leaders, Denktas and Papadopoulos, for taking the risky diplomatic initiative of putting their careers on the line.

Question - Is there still a snag?

Soylemez - I am afraid there is. Nothing is finished until it is finished. All will be well if it ends well. The final package deal must allay the worst fears of both parties. The final agreement must give them encouragement. They should feel safe in recommending acceptance to their constituents. If this is not the case, then one or both of the referenda may be in danger. The secretary-general should bear this in mind, that only a just and fair deal can pass the popular scrutiny of both sides to become a lasting deal. Provided that the goodwill and momentum are preserved and the promises kept, in all likelihood Oslo will be waiting to give Denktas and Papadopoulos the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize to crown their success and, once again, as an incurable optimist, I am prepared to bet on it.