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25th Feb 2017

Prickly reaction to Turkish plan on Cyprus conflict

  • Turkey thinks Cyprus is being arrogant on TRNC. Cyprus thinks Turkey is trying to kick it when it is down (Photo: khowaga1)

Cyprus and Greece have rebuked Turkey for trying to "take advantage" of the bank crisis to get a favourable deal on the Cypriot-Turkish conflict.

The Greek foreign minister, Dimitris Avramopoulos, complained about the Turkish initiative in a letter published on his website on Thursday (28 March).

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He said: "In my view, it is certainly wrong to take the ephemeral economic weakness of Cyprus … as a policy criterion."

His Cypriot counterpart, Ioannis Kasoulides, said in a statement the following day: "With its attitude, the Turkish government clearly shows that it tries to take advantage of these difficult times in order to gain political and economic benefits."

The rebukes come after Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, set out his ideas in no fewer than eight letters.

He wrote to China, France, Germany, Greece, Russia, the UK, the US and to the UN secretary general.

He did not write to Cyprus because Turkey does not recognise Cyprus, just as Cyprus (and the rest of the world) does not recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), created after Turkey invaded the island in 1974.

Turkey is not making Davutoglu's proposal public for now.

But there are clues to his ideas in a press release on his website on 23 March.

It says peace talks should begin "immediately." It notes that "Turkish Cypriots will never become a minority in a Greek Cypriot state." It also tells Cyprus it cannot count on income from gas fields in maritime zones claimed by the TRNC unless there is a political solution.

The Greek and Cypriot letters give some more clues.

Avramopoulos refers to Davutoglu's proposal for a "quadripartite conference" involving Cyprus, Greece, the TRNC and Turkey.

Kasoulides' letter indicates that Davutoglu wants special rights for what Kasoulides calls "Turkish settlers" - people who moved from Turkey to the TRNC over the past 40 years.

It also indicates that Davutoglu put forward two options - the creation of a shared country or the mutual recognition of two separate countries - citing "Turkish references to 'two peoples' … 'two states'."

The closest the island came to a settlement was in 2004, when TRNC accepted a UN plan for a Swiss-type federation called the United Cyprus Republic with a new flag and a new national anthem.

It was rejected by a referendum in Cyprus, however.

The new Turkish initiative comes after a string of diplomatic victories.

Turkish leader Recep Tayip Erdogan is shortly planning to visit Brussels to mark the restart of accession talks after a three year pause. He recently agreed a ceasefire with Kurdish rebels and he got an apology from Israel over its killing of Turkish sailors on a Gaza flotilla.

Turkey believes it has an ace on Cyprus.

The Cypriot crisis has not hurt people in TRNC because TRNC-based banks are not active in Cyprus and few Turkish Cypriots cross the green line to work there.

At the same time, the TRNC problem stands in the way of Cyprus' access to gas deposits under the Mediterranean Sea, which could contribute between €5 billion and €30 billion to its economy over the next 20 years (estimates vary wildly).

But despite its upper hand, Ankara appears to have misjudged the mood in Athens and Nicosia.

The Greek minister in his letter added that Turkey is behaving like an old fashioned colonial power.

"The Greek and Turkish Cypriots no longer need protectors. They can find solutions for themselves," he said.

The Cypriot minister noted that his starting point for talks is "getting rid of the Turkish occupation."

A Cypriot diplomat told EUobserver: "The time is not right for these Turkish ideas."

He added: "The first priority for us is to find solutions to our huge financial problems. It's very hard to make any decisions on this question [TRNC] when Cyprus is in such a difficult situation."

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