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In this interview published on 4 March 2008 in the Yeni Düzen newspaper, Turkish Cypriot Leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, assesses the prospects for a settlement to the Cyprus Problem in the wake of Dimitris Christofias’ election as President of the Cyprus Republic. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton.

All Eyes Are on the First Meeting

Ödül Aşık Ülker interviews Mehmet Ali Talat

Talat, saying, “Public opinion polls show no support for a confederation. The thought of a confederation has thus never passed my mind. It is as simple as that. It has never passed my mind; I have never spoken of it; I have never thought of it,” has stated that the Annan Plan constitutes the most appropriate reference point.

Question: The UN General Secretary’s special envoy to Cyprus, Moeller, visited you after the elections in the South. Dimitris Christofias, following his election as new head of the Greek Cypriot Administration, announced that he wished for Moeller to arrange a meeting with you. Did Moeller convey this wish to you?

Talat: Yes, not in these precise terms, but he did. We announced that we were prepared to talk at the earliest possible opportunity. It is common knowledge that Moeller will meet with the Greek Cypriot side’s new leader, Dimitris Christofias on Monday (today). Following this meeting, we may reach the stage at which a date may be set. In fact, we would have expected Christofias to be consulted first. It is on the Greek Cypriot side that there has been change and it would have been good to establish what has changed. That is water under the bridge. We announced that we were prepared to talk; we are waiting.

“A confederation is out of the question”

Question: You are facing a certain amount of criticism from within. You once staunchly defended a federation, yet you now avoid using the word federation. You have begun to speak of two states rather than of bi-communality and bi-zonality. It is alleged that you speak of a federal structure but wish for a confederation. How would you wish to respond to this?

Talat: A confederation is naturally out of the question. A confederation means cooperation between two states on certain matters. I have never made such a suggestion. I have never argued for a federation. In any case, the Turkish Cypriot people have never aligned themselves with a confederation. Public opinion polls show no support for a confederation. The thought of a confederation has thus never passed my mind. It is as simple as that. It has never passed my mind; I have never spoken of it; I have never thought of it. Consequently, I am violently opposed to the idea. However, it is precisely due to the Annan Plan that I do not constantly make referenced to a federation. The Turkish Cypriot people approved the Annan Plan. What the Turkish Cypriot people did not approve was a bi-communal federation. They approved the provisions of the Annan Plan. What sort of federation was this, what form did it take? In essence it was a federation, that is true, but what kind of federation? For one federation differs from another. There are many kinds of federation, ranging from one in which central authority is at its weakest to one in which central authority is at its strongest. Which of these did our people approve? They approved the one in the Annan Plan. Nobody may tell me that we have approved a federation in any form, because they cannot. The Turkish Cypriot people approved the form envisaged by the Annan Plan. This is the will of the Turkish Cypriot people. Nobody may interpret this will as they please. Indeed, certain parties say that the will of the Turkish Cypriot people is for a “settlement”; they say, “Let us return to the 1960 Agreement”. What a joke! After all, the Turkish Cypriot people did not approve the 1960 Republic of Cyprus agreement. The Turkish Cypriot people gave their sole approval directly to the fifth version of the UN’s comprehensive settlement which was presented to both sides on 31 March 2004. Let everyone come to their senses. It is perfectly clear what is willed and what is not. If I do not constantly refer to a federation, this is because the Annan Plan does not, either. So let those who criticise do their homework a bit better and learn a bit more, then we can debate. You will ask me why I do not keep repeating this word. This is because until 2002 the Greek Cypriots side tried to redefine the concept of a federation; while the Turkish side wanted a confederation. Consequently, the antagonistic, uncompromising positions of the side which wished for a federation and the side which insisted on speaking of a confederation found their expression in a text compiled so as to avoid reference to either a federation or a confederation. Middle ground was established between these two positions; a middle way was found. No mention is thus made there of a federation, but essentially it is a federation. However, I do not have to trot out the word federation five times a day. It is clear what I wish for: the Annan Plan as approved, a settlement within that framework. Any settlement that will be achieved will undoubtedly be within that framework in terms of its basic principles.

Question: Your statements to the effect that “What will be created is a new state” have also invited criticism. It is said that the EU will not recognise this, and also that this is not realistic.

Talat: They are mistaken. When Papadopoulos signed the accession agreement in 2003, the Republic of Cyprus joined the EU as of that date. But the Annan Plan envisaged a new state.

“I did not invent the notion of virgin birth”

Question: Those who voice such criticism also say that the Annan Plan envisages a revised form of the Republic of Cyprus.

Talat: No, it does not, because the TRNC’s parliamentary resolutions, governmental resolutions and laws would be effective within the new state. I did not invent the notion of virgin birth. The UN came up with this notion; it said that this was a new state. What does this mean? Let both the Greek Cypriots see their own state in this new state and the Turkish Cypriots see their own state in this state. Let everyone feel that it belongs to them. Let one side not feel that it belongs to the other. We have our own public administration, wage payments, tax revenue and pension payments. If there is to be a transformation, and if this state and its machinery are not to be transported into it, we will be like an appendage and this will spell the end of all of these things. Can there exist this kind of logic, of mentality? The state that is to be founded will undoubtedly be a new state. It will not be a state formed by revising the Republic of Cyprus. Under such circumstances, this means that nothing of ours will be transported there. Can approval be given to such a thing? This means being an appendage. Who can accept that? This will be a new state; there is no other way.

Question: What do you understand by two founding states, what are you demanding? What kind of distribution of power should there be? Will there be two presidents of two founding states?

Talat: That depends; everything is possible; we can discuss these things. Other forms were envisaged by the Annan Plan. The Annan Plan was weighted towards the Swiss system. There was virtually no leader. Maybe this was not suitable for Cyprus or then again, in my view, would be better, since I think there would be less conflict in that case. However, this may now be interpreted differently; different arrangements may be made. For example, in the Annan Plan the Turkish Cypriot state had a parliamentary system and the Greek Cypriot state had a presidential system; this may be reappraised. I think that, in the course of negotiations, decisions concerning the structure of the state need to be based on a very sound appraisal. Very recently there were discussions about a presidential system and the three large parties currently represented in parliament defend a presidential system. New provisions may thus introduce a presidential system into the Turkish Cypriot state. These are all matters that are open to debate; the key thing is the philosophy behind it all.

“I am hopeful’

Question: You have known Christofias for a very long time and now history has brought you together in this way. I do not want to say “face to face” because you have stated that you can walk together towards a settlement. However, Christofias promised DIKO prior to the second round of voting that the Annan Plan would not be tabled, and this is how he garnered support and was elected. He also gave the Foreign Ministry to DIKO. What kind of policies do you expect Christofias to follow? To what extent will he remain under DIKO’s influence? He surprised and disappointed everyone at the time of the Annan Plan by saying “no.” Will he make another surprise move; will he disappoint you again?

Talat: It is true that at the time I was disappointed. He appears to have learnt his lesson from that. For as of that day the two peoples in Cyprus have virtually become enemies of one another. Henceforth, much more, much greater effort requires to be expended to bring the two peoples together. I think he has learnt his lesson from that. Throughout the course of his election campaign he incorporated a message to the Turkish Cypriots into the campaign and said that he wanted to settle the Cyprus problem. I do not think that he will make the same mistake twice. In truth, I am hopeful. We must act as leaders of our people. We must draw up a settlement that is acceptable to both people. This is extremely important. In spite of everything, in spite of all past mistakes and errors, I think that the lesson has been learnt and that a significant change has been ushered in by the decision and will of the Greek Cypriot people, and that the new leadership which has come into being as a result will act in accordance with this. If we look at his cabinet, since he entered an alliance in the second round, he was bound to give ministries to his allies. Of greater importance than the persons who have been appointed ministers is the composition of the negotiating committee. The identity of the participants in the negotiations is of great significance. We will have to wait and see. I am hopeful; I want to be hopeful. I think that it has become apparent that the island is divided and we are moving towards permanent partition.

“Attempting to restrict the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people is a dangerous path’

Question: Christofias made reference to “occupation” in his swearing-in speech; he alleged that Turkey was to blame for the lack of a solution; he said that the key to a settlement is in Ankara; and he made comments to the effect that, ”It is impossible for the rights of Turkish Cypriots to be reframed in such a manner as to infringe on the rights of our Greek Cypriot, Maronite, Armenian and Latin citizens.’ How do you evaluate such statements?

Talat: The Turkish Cypriots were equal partners of the Republic of Cyprus. We do not currently wish for anything more than that; but we will not settle for anything less. There is no aspect to this right of ours which detracts from the rights of other ethnic - or essentially under the 1960 Constitution religious - groups living in Cyprus. The situation of the Maronites, Armenians and Latins is different. The whole world is aware of this and no problem has been experienced in this respect until now; at the very least, any problems that have been experienced have not grown to the extent that they form part of what we know as the Cyprus problem. Creating non-existent problems in an attempt to restrict the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people is a dangerous path and will deflect us from a settlement.

Coming to rhetoric concerning “occupation” or “the source of the problem being Ankara”, the whole world knows that Turkey intervened not in the name of occupation but in order to prevent Enosis in keeping with the international Guarantee and Alliance Treaties. She has done all in her power to secure a settlement and continues to do so today. The whole world also knows that the previous Greek Cypriot government is to blame for the lack of a settlement. At the end of the day, we are the ones whom the Greek Cypriot side will address, and they themselves have in any case requested to talk with us. It will not help for them to make statements aimed at appeasing certain extreme nationalist groups among their own people.

“It would be most appropriate to adopt the Annan Plan as a reference point”

Question: You have proposed the Annan Plan as a reference point; you have said that it may be a good starting point. How will you persuade the negotiating commission in the South or Christofias to adopt this starting point?

Talat: I personally think that it would be most appropriate to adopt the Annan Plan as a reference point. If the Greek Cypriot side does not accept that, it needs to make a proposal. Just what does such a proposal entail? it must contain the systematic features found in the Annan Plan which will enable a state to perform all of its functions, in other words, which will enable it to take the form of a mechanism that is capable of performing all the functions of a state. In other words, there has to be a new central administration. What form will this new central administration take? We will discuss which powers will be given to the central authority. We will determine the central authority’s duties and powers, and the remaining powers will reside with the sides. At the end of the day, the Annan Plan was drawn up based on a conception of a state which in itself was operational and had functions.

Question: Your position is that you wish for talks to begin and are prepared to discuss everything.

Talat: Naturally

Question: Criticism is levelled against you that you give the appearance of wishing for a settlement but lay down preconditions.

Talat: I have not laid down preconditions; when did I do this? Given that the Greek side would refuse to negotiate if the Annan Plan was laid down as a precondition, we did not even do this. We have acted in good faith and displayed flexibility. We could well have acted differently. After all, since there was no input from the Turkish Cypriot side, the Annan Plan was drawn up by the UN and the Greek Cypriot side, and then they rejected the plan they themselves had drawn up. Since they rejected it, we in the interests of demonstrating good faith refrained from saying, “Let us discuss the Annan Plan”. And now I face criticism because I am supposed to have acted in this way. I would understand if I had actually acted in this way, but it is not so; I have laid down no conditions. I really find it hard to understand. I find it hard to understand what those who criticise me in this way hope to achieve. I understand the others; i.e. the opponents of the Annan Plan, and the criticisms they make. But I cannot understand the former. How much more flexibility was I to show? We are not insisting that the Annan Plan, which our people approved, be adopted as the basis, that we will begin discussions from this point. Can there be any greater flexibility than this? It is unbelievable.

Question: Eurobarometer has recorded a fall in the confidence felt by the Turkish Cypriot people towards the UN and the EU. You say that it is necessary to provide leadership. How will you motivate the people in the course of this new process?

Talat: Naturally, I think that our people’s attitudes will change once negotiations commence. Despite their lack of confidence in these institutions, the Turkish Cypriot people want a settlement of the Cyprus problem. They express this openly and clearly. It will thus not be hard to motivate them. Once we have demonstrated where we are heading and they see what they will gain from this process, I think they will be sufficiently motivated.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton