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Foreign Minister Kotzias’ interview in Cyprus’ “Sunday Phileleftheros”, with journalist K. Venizelos
JOURNALIST: The Greek government has pointed up the issue of guarantees as a key issue of its foreign policy. Is this policy paying off? Is it gaining ground internationally?
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, let’s agree that it is a correct policy that places the Cyprus issue on its real foundations. The Cyprus issue is not first and foremost an issue of dividing natural resources or of disputes between the communities. It is a problem of the occupation and use of violence on the level of inter-state relations. When we stated publicly to the international community that the occupation forces must leave Cyprus and that we have to be done with the anachronistic and oft-violated system of guarantees, we were stating the truth. We pointed to the core of the solution of the Cyprus issue, as far as we are concerned, in an institutionally correct manner and based on international law.
The impression I have is that more and more people understand that there cannot be a solution to the Cyprus issue without our doing away with the aforementioned system. China and Russia understand it positively. The same goes for France. Britain is not interested in insisting of the rights of guarantees, but the rights to the bases, which is an issue on which the Cypriot government has exclusive responsibility. I think that the discussion has to a degree shifted from whether or not the guarantees are needed to what can follow them.
JOURNALIST: You recently met with Turkish officials in New York. What did you understand to be their reaction to your position on doing away with the guarantees?
N. KOTZIAS: I also discussed the issue with them during my visit to Turkey a few months ago. They have their views, but I think they are now aware that there cannot be a real solution to the Cyprus issue if the guarantees system is maintained; that the Cypriot people – the Greek Cypriots in particular – will not accept the continuation of this system. Attempting to maintain the guarantees means a pretext for non-solution of the Cyprus problem. A member state of the European Union cannot be subject to third-country guarantees. Moreover, guarantees for a state that is being set up are one thing, and they are another for an existing state. Let me put it another way: Guarantees are given to a state to safeguard it from third countries, not as a pretext for occupation by third countries. And you will be aware that the Treaty of Guarantee has been violated time and again. According to the Treaty, the use of rights takes place under three conditions: a) consultation with all of the parties, b) to take action to restore the state of affairs in case of disruption, and c) immediate withdrawal.
Do I need to explain to you that Turkey has violated all of these conditions for exercising guarantor rights? I don’t think so. Perhaps Turkey, with pragmatism, will at some point admit the truth: that it is in its own interest to withdraw from such rights. But this is not something that happens automatically, and it depends mainly on Turkey itself.
JOURNALIST: You have been working on the Cyprus issue for years. Do you think that the current state of affairs if favorable for achieving a solution?
N. KOTZIAS: The circumstances have never been exactly right for resolving the Cyprus issue. There have always been positive sides that favored a solution, together, in “symbiosis”, with negative ones. In the positive column, the actions of the Republic of Cyprus, I value the work of my colleague, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, very highly. And that Athens isn’t involving itself in Cyprus’ domestic issues, while it is helping decisively with regard to the guarantees. I also put among the positive factors the person who is leading the Turkish Cypriot community, because he still has a Cypriot conscience and only needs to think and act autonomously. The difficult points at this time include the economic crisis Cyprus is going through – and Greece even more so – and, to a degree, a “natural” suspicion as to where many of those involved are taking things. These negative points can be overcome with patience, composure, democratic dialogue and maximum communication of the real facts and developments. Finally, there is also a long-term difficulty that has to do with the war crisis; the instability and insecurity in the wider region.
JOURNALIST: Can an agreement include deviations from the Community acquis, as the Turkish side is asking?
N. KOTZIAS: I wonder whether it is asking for them only with regard to Cyprus, or also in order to create a precedent for its own negotiations with the European Union. There are deviations in a number of the European Union’s agreements with third countries that are in the accession process or have even joined the EU. But in the vast majority of cases these are temporary, transitional deviations, and they never have to do with the fundamental principles of the European Union. What Turkey is asking for is very different from the above. Turkey is asking for permanent deviations and on issues that are fundamental to the very existence and identity of the European Union. That is, the European Union is being asked to alter its very physiognomy, to renounce principles and values on which it was founded, such as freedom of movement and establishment of persons. And this cannot be accepted by anyone – neither by us nor, in particular, by the Commission, which, according to the treaties, has to safeguard the Community acquis.
JOURNALIST: You have often referred to respect for minority rights – and this is the first time this has happened with regard to the Cyprus issue. What do you mean on this issue.
N. KOTZIAS: The decision-making system provided for by the various schemes for a solution to the Cyprus issue have, as a rule, ended up with the decisions being taken by certain institutions with the participation of foreigners. My proposal was that, for this system, we could think about using – instead of foreigners – representatives of the three separate population groups beyond the two communities: the Maronites, the Latins and the Armenians. I believe that such a proposal would be very persuasive, despite the objections from the other side. It would show that, beyond the communities, we want the rights of all of the existing religious and ethnic groups in Cyprus to be guaranteed. And, moreover, this shows that when we defend the human, political and social rights of the citizens of Cyprus, we want to do so for everyone, without exception, and we mean it.
JOURNALIST: Do you confirm that your meetings with Mr. Eide are always difficult and are carried out in a tense atmosphere?
N. KOTZIAS: No, quite the contrary. I think they are extremely interesting. As you may know, I have studied all of Mr. Eide’s texts, and his book on security in particular. And I urge him to deal with the Cyprus issue based on these very texts. I also urge him not to forget for even a second that he is a representative of the UN and thus of international law and the UN Security Council resolutions on the Cyprus issue, which are binding in excluding the use of violence in international relations and the occupation of the territory of a UN member state. I think he listens carefully to these and many other positions that I set out in the meetings. Similarly, I, too, listen to his concerns. In discussions, there are moments of difficulty and moments that are relaxed. The truth is, I am not an easy collocutor. But that is my duty. I think that Mr. Eide appreciates that I always go to our discussions very well prepared, as I should. I am sincere and I want the Cyprus problem to be resolved. To be resolved correctly and justly, of course.
JOURNALIST: Greece and Cyprus have an important role to play in the wider region. Trilateral cooperation with Egypt and Cyprus. How is their role being upgraded geopolitically, and how is this strategic added value being capitalized on?
N. KOTZIAS: Like the Republic of Cyprus, Greece is a pole of stability and security within an unstable triangle that has Ukraine, Libya and Syria/Iraq at its vertices. Within this triangle, Greece and Cyprus emit waves of stability. Contributing to this are the two countries’ policies on Israel and Palestine, their joint cooperation with the former, and with Egypt. There are now thoughts of a similar configuration with Jordan. In this way we are endeavoring to establish “internal lines” of stability within the triangle of instability. I think that the powers that want stability and security in the region appreciate these choices deeply. At a time when Greece is economically and financially weak, there are those who are trying, in the name of this weakness, to have us back down from the positions of relative geopolitical power that we have. We have made precisely the opposite choice: We are trying to introduce our relatively stronger position in geopolitical issues into the negotiations that have to do with the debt. And, to a degree, this has been achieved. Finally, we will not allow anyone to exploit the migration and refugee currents to add geopolitical power to themselves while their own failures in Syria are paid for by third countries.