Attempts to reach an agreement that would allow experts to enter the ghost town of Varosha/Maras to inspect its condition failed, says Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, ‘Cyprus Mail’ reports.
Prior to US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Cyprus, reports were widely circulated that Biden would declare the US funded inspection by international experts of Varosha to be a “small” confidence building measure (CBM). The international team would develop a master plan for the rejuvenation of Famagusta, including Varosha which is under Turkish military control.
When Biden met with President Anastasiades and President Eroglu on Thursday evening at a dinner which ran an hour over schedule, speculation mounted that it had been agreed to allow experts to access Varosha.
However, no such agreement had been reached which fact Kasoulides described as humiliating to the Greek Cypriots.
Biden left, simply saying that the US encourages the Cypriot leaders to discuss a package related to Varosha and Famagusta.
Kasoulides said that it was Biden’s intention to declare US President Barack Obama’s stance on implementing CBMs in Cyprus.
In relation to the return of Varosha, it would be essential to allow experts to enter the dilapidated town and study how infrastructure works could begin, looking at electricity, water supply, sewage, roads, pavements etc. The next phase would be to assess whether or not the buildings are safe to live in so that the previous residents of Varosha could eventually return to their properties.
Experts could also undertake studies to upgrade Famagusta port, said Kasoulides.
“It was not possible to agree by the Vice President’s visit due to certain demands of the Turkish Cypriots which for us were not only unacceptable but also made in bad faith. They wanted to humiliate us with the inclusion of a special reference that these international experts could be foreign or Turkish Cypriot, but explicitly not Greek Cypriot.”
Kasoulides said the Greek Cypriot side would have been happy to accept internationals only or foreign experts assisted by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots working together.
“We never demanded that the experts be either Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot, but we cannot accept that Greek Cypriots are forbidden in an area which is purely Greek,” he said.
The particular stipulation by Ankara that no Greek Cypriot experts should access the ghost town was the main reason for failing to agree on opening up Varosha for inspection, the report says.
Kasoulides said he was disappointed by Ankara’s stance, saying that while Turkish officials declare their willingness to achieve a solution to the Cyprus problem, at the same time, they do not act on their words.
He also claimed that it was the Greek Cypriots and not others, know best what kind of measures would boost confidence in the talks and increase the chances of a positive outcome in a possible referendum.
When asked what would happen next on the issue, he said diplomatic efforts will continue, adding that Biden remains a supporter of this effort, which will not be abandoned.
The return of Varosha was proposed by President Anastasiades as part of a package which included opening Famagusta port to international trade under EU supervision, encouraging bi-communal cooperation on reconstructing Varosha and revitalising the entire district, Turkey would open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic, and Cyprus would lift its veto on Turkey’s EU accession chapters.
Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides yesterday confirmed that“intense negotiations” had been held over the last two weeks on Famagusta, with the US playing a major role in liaising with Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots.
He said Biden tried very hard to get concrete agreement on Famagusta during his visit to Cyprus but was unable to do so.
“The US Vice President saw first-hand the stance of the Turkish side,” said Christodoulides, adding it was important for the Americans to see who is being constructive and who is creating obstacles.
“We got close to an agreement that would have allowed the gradual implementation of the president’s proposal but the Turkish side’s stance was clear. The aim was not to promote the measures, but other objectives that we were not prepared to follow.”
As regards Biden’s visit to Cyprus, the foreign minister described it as “historic” and “especially positive” for Cyprus, and a demonstration of US interest in a solution to the Cyprus problem.
He noted Biden’s description of Cyprus as a “key player” in the wider region and a “strategic partner” of the US.
”These developments are the result of the Foreign Ministry’s systematic work for the last 15 months, on the instructions of the president.”
The aim was to prove Cyprus is a reliable partner in the fight against asymmetric threats, without any wavering or backpedalling, while also promoting its role in regional energy cooperation.
“We wanted to show Cyprus’ added value to the common foreign and security policy of the EU,” he said.
The result was strengthened relations with the US, which is now interested in a Cyprus solution.
Referring to the constant fear expressed by the opposition parties that Biden’s visit to the North would undermine the status of the Cyprus Republic and upgrade the breakaway regime, he said the government acted on a cabinet decision of June 9, 2005 under the presidency of the late Tassos Papadopoulos which outlines the practice to be followed when foreign dignitaries want to meet with a Turkish Cypriot leader.
“It is a fact that some of us are haunted by phobias, as if we ourselves doubt the fact that we are the internationally recognised state, (and have phobias on) the Cyprus Republic’s sovereignty and the so-called effort of certain foreigners to undermine us and upgrade the pseudo state,” he said.
Kasoulides also insisted that relations with Russia have not been harmed in any way by the enhanced Cyprus-US relations.
“Russia respects Cyprus’ right to exercise its foreign policy within the EU, where we belong,” he declared.