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Peace at home, peace in the world

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Interview of H.E. Mr. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to Phileleftheros, 21 May 2017

FİLELEFTHEROS : How do you see the role of Turkey in our region?

FOREIGN MINISTER MEVLÜT ÇAVUŞOĞLU : Turkey is a leading humanitarian donor, an active security provider, and an enterprising and humanitarian actor. Our objective is to live safely, securely and prosperously in an environment of peace. We have achieved much and want to achieve more. Turkey is now a G20 country, whose level of economic prosperity is already widely respected around the world. Our fundamental premise is Peace at Home and Peace in the World. Add to this prosperity at home and in the world and you will understand our objectives and policies better. If you look around closely, you will see that Turkey is positively contributing to the solution of many challenges in her region. Let me give you a few examples. Turkey is a safe haven for nearly 3 million Syrians who escaped the war and has already spent 25 billion dollars for them. We have become the most generous nation in the world when it comes to humanitarian contributions. World Humanitarian Summit was held in Turkey last year as a recognition of this fact. Turkish diplomacy is also very active in trying to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria. Similarly, Turkey plays a leading role in the fight against the scourge of terrorism, on both the normative and operational levels. On one side, we espouse a worldview that counters the clash of civilizations viewpoint. At the same time, Turkey has shown how to fight terror organizations like DAESH by clearing more than 2.000 square kilometers of Syrian territory from terrorist presence. Our fight against PKK/YPG and FETO terror is also ongoing in full vigor. These are just a few examples of Turkey's concrete contributions to regional security and stability. But the point is clear: Turkey’s enterprising and humanitarian policy creates a positive impact in the region. It stands against disruptive policies and parties while it reinforces dynamics of peace and prosperity. Our ultimate goal is to create a regional community of peace, prosperity and Olympian esprit de corps.

Greek Cypriots believe that Turkey holds the key of Cyprus problem and only if you corporate for the settlement will be solved and the real issue is not the discussion with Turkish Cypriots.

There were five parties to the treaties establishing the 1960 Partnership State. It follows that we have a shared responsibility for the realization of the new state of affairs on the Island. What is needed now is for the two sides on the Island to make sufficient progress, so that the comprehensive settlement can be concluded with the participation of the three Guarantor States. Turkey has always done her utmost to reach a just and lasting comprehensive settlement on the Island. Rest assured that we will continue to play a positive and constructive role if everyone else does their part as well. Remember that in 2004, the year that the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan Plan, Mr. Erdoğan, as Prime Minister then, pledged to always remain “one step ahead” on the settlement of the Cyprus issue. That is exactly what we have done, constantly encouraging the Turkish Cypriot side to maintain their constructive stance in the negotiations. Since 2008, when the current process first commenced, different Turkish Cypriot leaderships maintained the political will towards a settlement. Three Turkish Cypriot Presidents from different political backgrounds have held office in the past decade and each of them has displayed the same determination to successfully conclude the talks. Turkey’s support and constructive encouragement played no small role in this. We also contributed to the conclusion of the Leader’s Joint Declaration of 11 February 2014, which reenergized the negotiations. It was our idea for the negotiators from both sides to conduct cross-visits to Athens and Ankara later that month; in fact, for our part, we would have preferred for them to be received at a higher level than Undersecretary. It was again Turkey who has repeatedly proposed high-level joint visits by the Turkish and Greek Prime Ministers first to the South, then to the North of the Island. I personally hosted AKEL Secretary-General Mr. Kyprianou in Istanbul in January 2016. I worked together with him at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and he is a good friend of mine. During the same visit Mr. Kyprianou was also received by our then Prime Minister. Last but not least, we displayed a very constructive attitude both at last January’s Cyprus Conference in Geneva and at the subsequent Working Group meetings in Mont Pèlerin. So the facts are there for all to see. After all, it is the Greek Cypriots, not the Turkish Cypriots or Turkey, who rejected numerous UN-sponsored settlement initiatives over the decades, including the Annan Plan. What stops the Greek Cypriots from acknowledging the Turkish Cypriots as their politically equal partners? Isn’t reaching a viable and sustainable settlement important? As for Turkey, we will definitely continue to give our full support to the settlement process.

You always say that you are one step ahead of the Greek Cypriots, but a solution to the Cyprus problem was not found, why this happens and why you do not do something drastic?

In fact, we have driven the settlement process with countless initiatives. The real reason no settlement has yet been found to the Cyprus issue is the lack of political will on the Greek Cypriot side. You can understand our genuine disappointment by the consistent refusal of the Greek Cypriot administration to accept settlement initiatives. Your own former Foreign Minister, Mr. Rolandis, published an essay nearly 10 years ago with a long list of proposals rejected by the Greek Cypriot side. The 1958 Macmillan Plan, 1964 Acheson Plan, the 1975 Bicommunal Arrangement, the 1983 Indicators of Perez de Cuellar, Boutros-Ghali’s 1992 Set of Ideas, the 2004 Annan Plan, to name just a few. Now the list is even longer. Turkey is doing all she can to achieve a settlement. But do not think that we are after any settlement at any cost. I think this is where the Greek Cypriot side has consistently read the situation wrongly. A negotiated settlement will be based on both sides making compromises. The Turkish Cypriot side has displayed its willingness to compromise. Now the ball is firmly in the Greek Cypriot court.

We all know and believe that the main stabling block for the settlement is the insistence of Turkey to keep troops on the ground and to have the right to intervening unilaterally, isn’t completely out of place and anachronistic on the 21st century and for a country member of EU?

Once you want a solution, why do not you withdrawn the Turkish army?

Do you accept an agreement on the Cyprus issue that provides for troop withdrawal and removal of guarantees?

“An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” We have to make sure to do things right in the first place because the alternative may mean too much aggravation in the long run. Turkish troops are there for a reason. They are there because between 1963 and 1974, the Greek Cypriots destroyed the 1960 Partnership State, began a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Turkish Cypriots, and tried to achieve enosis. The bloodshed on the Island ended only after Turkey’s intervention; and let me remind you that it was Turkey’s intervention which effectively restored democracy in South Cyprus as well. Unfortunately, the amnesia on the events of 1963 to 1974 has proved fatal to all attempts to settle the Cyprus issue amicably. And that is not all: the presence of Turkish forces in the north has been averting any further outbreak of conflict for over four decades. Today, opinion polls in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus clearly indicate that the vast majority of Turkish Cypriots will not accept a settlement that does not entail Turkish guarantees. Given their traumatic past experiences at the hands of the Greek Cypriots, no one can blame them. Quite frankly, no settlement can be sustainable without the necessary safeguards to prevent the recurrence of such events. The existing Treaties of Guarantee and Alliance provide a robust framework for ensuring the future stability of the Island. In a future partnership state, as long as the constitutional order and the political equality of the Turkish Cypriots are respected, there will be nothing to fear from Turkey. Besides, the Eastern Mediterranean today is full of security challenges. So the Turkish military presence on the Island will continue to provide much-needed safety for the entire Island against external threats.

Greek Cypriots believe that in today's world they made their European choices and they consider completely outlandish that you tried to claim that they have enosis on their agenda.

As President Akıncı has also stated numerous times, no one thinks that the majority of Greek Cypriots want enosis. That is not the point. The point is that a party like the far-right ELAM was allowed to hijack your parliament. Isn’t this sad? Try to put yourself in the Turkish Cypriots’ place. You are negotiating for a comprehensive settlement on the basis of the political equality of the two sides. You are working with goodwill towards a new partnership. You have not given up hope for such a partnership, even after nearly 50 years of negotiations. And then, after two years of talks in this current round, after much progress, after a Cyprus Conference – your future partners suddenly declare that they want to commemorate the enosis referendum in public schools! I don’t know how this sounds to you but it does not give anyone reassurance about the Greek Cypriot intentions. To the contrary, it vindicates all concerns. What should the Turkish Cypriots think? Do you really think such a move bolsters mutual confidence and trust? No, the Greek Cypriot side should be teaching its schoolchildren how to share the Island with their Turkish Cypriot partners, instead of keeping alive the memory of an impossible Panhellenic dream. And remember that it is the drive for enosis that lies at the roots of all the sufferings in Cyprus in the first place.

Why do you insist on the issue of the 4 freedoms, this does not concern your relationship with the European Union, why should it be discussed within the framework of the Cyprus problem?

We both know that Cyprus is a very special case. You cannot seriously believe that your Administration is like any other EU member. When the 1960 Republic was founded, care was taken to establish an external balance between Greece and Turkey, reflecting the internal balance between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Greece and Turkey enjoyed most favored nation status in the partnership Republic. The unfortunate fact that you were granted unilateral EU membership in 2004 - despite your refusal of the Annan Plan - does not mean that the basic parameters of the Cyprus issue have changed. Equal treatment of Turkish and Greek citizens, limited to the Island of course, is still necessary to maintain the external balance between the two motherlands in Cyprus. It is also an economic necessity for the sustainability of the settlement. So it has to be anchored within the comprehensive settlement itself. There is no other way.

Many people argue that Mustafa Akinci has a clear vision for a solution to Cyprus problem but Ankara intervenes and doesn’t help him to realize it.

It is said that Ankara has given explicit mandates to Mustafa Akinci and his associates to remain in the negotiations, at the same time you are moving to implement a plan B, that is, actions towards the integration of northern Cyprus that has already begun with water and electricity.

How feasible is the prospect of finding a solution this year and what factors this prospect depends on?

Please recall which side it was that has refused all the settlement initiatives in the past. Was it the Turkish Cypriot side? No. Let me reemphasize what I stated previously: the Turkish Cypriots, with Turkey’s support, have consistently worked for a just and lasting comprehensive settlement. Turkey sincerely desires a settlement in Cyprus, as do the Turkish Cypriots. Our aims are the same. We continue to work with goodwill towards a new partnership. We want to transform the Island into a bastion of peace, stability, cooperation and economic prosperity. Today, the existing status quo on the Island is unacceptable to both sides. We believe a new, prosperous Cyprus without ethnic tensions will be welcomed by all concerned. So we are surprised that there is still a lack of political will on the Greek Cypriot side. The window of opportunity is rapidly closing, and after 50 years of talks this is now our last chance. A comprehensive settlement will be a win-win situation. But let me put it plainly: if the settlement negotiations fail because the Greek Cypriots are not willing to go the extra mile, then you should consider which side has more to lose. After all, the Turkish Cypriots will always continue to enjoy Turkey’s friendship and support. So perhaps the Greek Cypriot leadership should take the time to perform a rational, cool-headed cost-benefit analysis, and decide which course of action will be to their own long-term advantage. And since when is achieving interconnection in water and electricity a bad thing? If it was, half of the world’s nation-states should stop cooperating with each other.

Is it true that the Turkish side is seeking a new Cyprus conference before the end of July?

Holding a new Cyprus Conference will only make sense if there is sufficient progress in the ongoing negotiations on the Island, specifically as regards the first four negotiation chapters, namely Governance and Power Sharing, EU, Economy and Property. Without such progress, we don’t think a second Conference could produce meaningful results.

Is the blame game started?

Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots will continue to work with goodwill and constructively. We will spare no efforts for a viable solution. We prefer playing the game fairly. Blame games are for those who have hidden agendas.

Do you see Turkey playing a role in Cyprus after a solution?

Of course. We will not stop being a motherland after a settlement. And we will continue to bolster the Island’s security through the Guarantees system. So, like Greece, we will always have a special relationship with Cyprus. And economically the new partnership state will benefit greatly from Turkey’s friendship and cooperation. Let me give you just two examples. We can supply enough water over and above the requirements of the entire Island. And when Turkish ports are opened to Greek Cypriot vessels, new shipping avenues will emerge and trade volumes will rise. I hope that the importance and benefits of Turkey’s friendship will be better understood.

In Cyprus people believe that Turkey is the big neighbors that threatens our security and tries to prevent us from exercising our sovereign rights for insurance in our maritime areas. How can you explain for the point of view of law this behavior of Turkey?

For the issue of the Republic of Cyprus's energy planning, is it not best to work to solve the Cyprus problem and then discuss a co-operation rather than questioning the sovereign right of the Republic of Cyprus to capitalize on the natural wealth?

Could energy be a catalyst for peace or war and in which way?

With a view to achieving an equitable solution, delimitation of the continental shelf between states with opposite or adjacent coasts should be effected by agreement. The Greek Cypriot Administration has acted against this cardinal principle of international law and declared maritime jurisdiction areas unilaterally in violation of Turkey’s continental shelf. Were you expecting Turkey just to sit idly by and watch while her vital interests in the Eastern Mediterranean are challenged? As for cooperation, let me remind you that the Turkish Cypriot side has repeatedly appealed to the Greek Cypriots to jointly exploit the Island’s natural resources. They suggested, for example, the establishment of an ad-hoc committee as well as an escrow account for the possible revenues. But your side still refuses to acknowledge them as the co-owners of the Island. And as long as you do that, you will encounter difficulties with your unilateral hydrocarbon activities. The Greek Cypriot side needs to realize that a comprehensive settlement will also bring with it the ability to freely explore and exploit the Island’s hydrocarbon resources. Intransigence has a price, just as goodwill has a reward. On a general note, we perceive energy as a tool for cooperation. At the same time, energy alone cannot turn an ongoing dispute into a settlement. The Cyprus issue is a case in point.

There is a concern that Turkey is pursuing a hot episode in the Aegean or Cyprus, is this within Turkey's logic?

What does Turkey aim for with frequent violations in Greece and Imia?

Such concerns are completely unfounded. Turkey does not provoke. Instead, we respond to provocations. Take the example of your hydrocarbon-related activities around the Island. We have consistently been emphasizing that such unilateral activities disregard the inalienable rights on natural resources of the Turkish Cypriot people, who are the co-owners of the Island. You know that in previous years, similar activities led to the failure of the comprehensive settlement negotiations. Yet the Greek Cypriot side still chooses to sign exploration and exploitation contracts with hydrocarbon companies and to push for drilling in July. Then you start raising alarms when the Turkish Cypriots are obliged to take their own actions. But as I just told you, the Turkish Cypriots have actually suggested different avenues of cooperation for joint hydrocarbon activities, and your side has refused these initiatives. Therefore the aim is not to cause escalation. The message to you should be clear enough: you need to finally grasp the win-win-based potential for economic cooperation that can ensue on the Island, and in the Eastern Mediterranean as a whole, from a comprehensive settlement. You need to plan your steps with this goal in mind. Unilateral initiatives, taken as though the Turkish Cypriots had no claim to those natural resources, will get you nowhere. If you truly want a new partnership, you should be willing to share.

Which is Turkey's energy role in the Eastern Mediterranean?

Turkey is a large and growing market in the region. It is also the shortest and safest route for the transportation of energy resources to Europe. We are ready to positively consider any energy project in the region on the basis of three criteria. First of all, any given project should be economically feasible. Secondly, it should offer win-win solutions to all parties. Finally, the project should contribute to peace and stability in the region and beyond.

There is a tension in your relationship with Greece, does this affect the Cyprus issue negatively?

The relationship between Greece and Turkey has always been important for security and stability in our region. We pursue relations with Greece with a positive agenda. So let me turn your question around: a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus will definitely have a positive impact on Turkish-Greek relations.

Is Turkey's goal still to join the European Union?

EU membership remains a priority for us. Our relations with the EU, dating back to the Association Agreement of 1963, are made up of several important layers such as the Customs Union and accession negotiations. Turkey has a clear conscience. For 60 years, we have worked hard on the road to accession. However, double standards on the EU side erode dialogue and aggravate disappointment towards the EU in Turkish public opinion. We have always underlined that accession negotiations should be conducted on a purely technical basis, and political blockages should no longer be an obstacle. We expect the EU to uphold its commitments and take positive concrete measures to overcome the confidence crisis.