Return of Varosha could be ‘game-changer’ says US ambassador


By Jean Christou – Cyprus Mail – Thursday, 27th March, 2014

THE return of Varosha to the Greek Cypriot side would be one of the “game-changing steps” the U.S. believes would create a new dynamic for the Cyprus talks, ambassador John Koenig said yesterday. Koenig was responding to a question about confidence-building measures (CBM) and specifically the return of the ghost town.

“We share the view that such steps could contribute very, very positively to the conclusion and implementation of a comprehensive settlement. These are not two different things. They are part of the same effort, after 40 years, to successfully reach a settlement and implement a settlement that will reunite the island and protect the interests of all Cypriots,” Koenig said after a meeting with ruling DISY leader Averof Neophytou.

Koenig said the US speaks with the Turkish government and with the Turkish Cypriot community with regard to CBMs for Cyprus, but said he would rather not use that precise term. “It is game-changing steps to be taken in order to create a new dynamic for the Cyprus issue that we are talking about and we discuss these at every opportunity with all of the parties involved,” he said.

Koenig said he had briefed Neophytou on his recent visit to Washington and on what US Secretary of State, John Kerry, had said regarding the Cyprus problem, “which is high on his priority list.” “We see a very significant opportunity for a settlement of the Cyprus problem for a new united Cyprus with very positive perspectives in all fields,” said the ambassador.

Neophytou also used the term “game-changer” when he referred to Varosha, saying however that CBMs could not be a substitute for a comprehensive settlement. “We’re aiming for a viable solution that will create prospects and hopes for all Cypriots,” he said.

Koenig did not comment on a statement by Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu that Kerry would visit Cyprus next month.  Government spokesman Christos Stylianides said yesterday Nicosia had no such information.

Only days away from the second meeting of President Nicos Anastasiades and Eroglu next Monday, the two sides did not appear to be in sync, either on Varosha as a CBM, or on what the next stage of the talks might entail.

Eroglu and his chief negotiator, Kudret Ozersay, have been talking in recent days as if the two sides were ready to begin the give-and-take part of the process. However, Stylianides was adamant this was not the case. “This is the beginning of the road, the solution is not ready, what it takes is hard negotiation, we need to form alliances and be determined based on the EU principles,” he said on Tuesday.

CBMs, and especially the return of Varosha would bring a new dynamic to the negotiations and this was also acknowledged by the international community, he added. It would boost the negotiations, improve the climate and create trust.

Yesterday, Styliandies told the public broadcaster: “The most important step in confidence-building remains Varosha.” Stylianides said that during their upcoming meeting the two leaders would assess what has been discussed so far between two chief negotiators.

Greek Cypriot negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis is expected to press home the Varosha issue during his visit to the US. But while the Greek Cypriot side insists that the give-and-take stage is not near, on the Turkish Cypriot side, Ozersay said conditions were ripe for that step as soon as the leaders get together, even by Monday. “If this whole process is called ‘Cyprus negotiations’ and not ‘chats’ the only remaining step is ‘give and take’,” he said.

Eroglu yesterday went as far as to say the Turkish side’s aim was to end the negotiations with simultaneous referenda before 2015. “We think that we should quickly pass into the mutual give-and-take process and end the negotiations with an agreement. The Greek Cypriot side has started acting as if it is not in a hurry but the world’s attention is focused on us,” he said. Eroglu said that he would bring it up with Anastasiades on Monday.

The negotiators have discussed the agenda for the meeting, but Ozersay said that while they agreed on some elements, there were others they had disagreed on.

He said the Greek Cypriots wanted to bring two subchapters to the table, but Ozersay said this could be done by the two negotiators rather than the leaders.

He said there was general agreement on the law but not on elections for the federal administration, the creation of decision-making mechanism, property, security and guarantees. The negotiators are due to meet again on April 8, 11 and 15, Ozersay said.

Earlier this week Turkish President Abdullah Gul met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the nuclear summit in the Hague and discussed Cyprus among other topics.

According to a spokesman of Ban, both agreed that it was critical to maintain the current momentum in the Cyprus talks. “The Secretary-General encouraged Turkey to continue to engage actively and constructively in the Cyprus issue,” said the spokesman.

By Jean Christou – Cyprus Mail – Thursday, 27th March, 2014