The Director of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Affairs in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) Mrs. Gülfem Veziroğlu Sevgili has urged the United Nations (UN) to consider bringing new methodology and substance in negotiating a breakthrough to the Cyprus question.
Addressing journalists fro around the globe in Lefkoşa ahead of the 20th July Celebrations, Mrs Sevgili noted that the half-a-century long negotiations to reach a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus issue have failed following the collapse of the Cyprus Conference in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, which took place between 28 June and 7 July 2017.
“After the collapse of the Cyprus Conference in 2017, the UN Secretary-General in his report, dated July 2017, to the UN Security Council invited the parties and the leaders to reflect deeply upon the results and the possible road ahead. The UN Secretary-General recently announced that he has asked Ms Lutte, a UN official, to hold consultations with all sides regarding their reflections. She will be meeting with the Leaders of the two sides on 23 July 2018.
“Now, while contemplating the way forward, it is important to consider a number of facts regarding the methodology and the substance, ” Mrs Sevgili said.
The diplomat said since the beginning of negotiations in 1968, all methodologies (ie. tools and techniques of negotiation) have been exhausted, and yet none of the past processes have resulted in a comprehensive settlement.
Therefore, she said, the focus should not be the negotiations themselves, simply for the sake of starting or resuming negotiations. Rather, the focus should be on why the negotiations have failed for 50 years and what should be the way forward.
This approach brings about the question: Do the two sides, namely the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides, equally need a settlement?
“The answer to this question lies in the examination of whether the Cyprus issue poses a mutually-hurting stalemate to both sides of the island. In other words, one must analyse whether both sides are suffering equally from the existing status quo and, in effect, whether there is an equally pressing need or incentive to work towards resolving in.
The reality of the situation is that there is not a mutually-hurting stalemate, for three main reasons: Even without a settlement, the Greek Cypriot side is treated as the “Government” of the whole island; is a full member of the European Union (EU); and is able to explore, exploit and now potentially sell to international markets the natural resources found around the island.”
Against that background, Mrs Sevgili said the main question then becomes what incentive the Greek Cypriot side has to share power and prosperity with the Turkish Cypriots. Hence, it becomes apparent that the existing status quo in the island does not constitute an unbearable situation for the Greek Cypriot side as it does for the Turkish Cypriot side, which continues to be held hostage to an all-embracing isolation in all fields of life.
There have been opportunities in the past to resolve the Cyprus problem, which have been missed, not only due to the Greek Cypriot side’s maximalist positions (Former Greek Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicos Rolandis, is on record that the Greek Cypriot side rejected settlement documents throughout the years, citing 1984-1986 Draft Framework Agreement, Ghali Set of Ideas of 1992 and the Comprehensive Settlement Plan of 2004-Annan Plan) but also because of the international community’s role in enabling the Greek Cypriot side to maintain these positions without reprimand.
It is important to note that former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan concluded in his report to the UN Security Council, dated 28 May 2004, that the Greek Cypriot side is not ready to share power and prosperity with the Turkish Cypriot side. And that the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot people had no grounds.
A prime example of a missed opportunity in this regard is the 2004 Annan Plan era: If the EU had made the settlement of the Cyprus issue conditional to EU membership, it would have encouraged the Greek Cypriot side to accept the UN’s aforementioned comprehensive settlement plan. Unfortunately, the unconditional offer of EU membership, with or without a settlement, further encouraged the Greek Cypriot rejection of the Plan.
“Now, there exists a similar chance to utilise the existing circumstances as an opportunity as regards the settlement, in whatever form it may be, of the Cyprus issue: the natural resources/hydrocarbons around the island,” Mrs Sevgili added.
Unlike the 50-year-long frozen political conflict, the hydrocarbons issue is currently a tangible physical conflict in the field of energy concerning the two sides and international actors.
In this regard, in light of the Greek Cypriot side’s recent and unilateral activity in the Eastern Mediterranean regarding the exploration, exploitation and potential marketing of natural resources, it is possible to turn this current impasse into a platform of dialogue between the two sides.
For this to be possible, however, the international community must send the right message to the Greek Cypriot side; that it cannot act unilaterally.
In other words, given the recent tensions in the region on the hydrocarbon issue, there is a pressing need for the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots to start discussing whether and how they are going to utilize these resources. Moreover, the international community should encourage this by seeking the consent of both the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, the co-owners of the island, before accepting the selling of these resources in international markets.
Such messaging by the international community, ie. that both sides are equal owners of the resources and that the consent of both is necessary to exploit and sell them, would, in effect, create the hurting stalemate that is necessary to give the Greek Cypriot side the incentive to cease its unilateral approach and seek a mutually beneficial and joint approach. It would also take the Greek Cypriot side outside of the comfort zone created by the continuation of the status quo.
In summary, the way forward regarding the Cyprus issue is interlinked with showing the Turkish Cypriots that the Greek Cypriot side is ready to share power, and prosperity.
It should be recalled that both the Greek Cypriot side and the greater international community have publicly accepted that the Turkish Cypriots are the co-owners of the hydrocarbons.
“The irony is that, despite accepting this fact, the Greek Cypriot side wants to remain the sole authority on the matter and decide on its own when, how, and to what degree the resources and their management will be shared with the Turkish Cypriots.
“Any such approach also puts into question the sincerity of the Greek Cypriot side regarding seeking a political settlement model which entails a true partnership. To reiterate, it is impossible to envisage a partnership without accepting to share power and prosperity.”
The Turkish Cypriot proposals of 2011 and 2012 regarding the hydrocarbon issue should not be neglected or undermined. In this regard, the Turkish Cypriot proposed two options in good faith. The first was to suspend hydrocarbon activities until the Cyprus issue is resolved. If this was rejected, the second option was to form a committee that would jointly tackle all aspects of the natural resources issue – decision-making, planning and implementation – prior to a political settlement.
The TRNC diplomat said not only were both of these proposals rejected outright by the Greek Cypriot side, but the Greek Cypriot side made baseless arguments of sovereignty and proceeded to engage in unilateral activities in disputed blocks around the island’s territorial waters and to sign bilateral agreements with other countries regarding these activities.
Nonetheless, when there was an explosion in the Greek Cypriot region Zygy in 2011 and a widespread electricity outage took place, the Greek Cypriot side had no other option but to cooperate with the Turkish Cypriot side and temporarily buy electricity from them. This was an example of cooperation in the field of energy, as a result of a hurting stalemate on the Greek Cypriot side, and could act as a precedent for future cooperation. Needless to say, such interdependencies are unavoidable between components of the same geography.
If assessed correctly and treated as an opportunity, the natural resources can act as such a game-changer, creating a win-win situation both for the energy issue and the political issue on the island.