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Media Watch 2006

03 November 2006
Source: Cyprus Weekly
Author: Menelaos Hadjicostis
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Weekly of Nicosia on 3 November 2006.
‘Common ground’ with UK on Finnish plan
""We have made clear to Turkey and I have said many times previously in public that we expect Turkey to accept its obligations under European law," said Hoon" [Britain’s Minister for Europe]

"LONDON and Nicosia share common ground in their strong support for intensive Finnish-led diplomacy to avert an EU-Turkey crisis as both countries turn a corner in their oft-strained relations.

Foreign Minister George Lillikas and Britain’s Minister for Europe Geoff Hoon said agreement on a Finnish draft compromise proposal getting Turkey to open its ports to Cypriot traffic is a crucial signpost in getting full-fledged reunification talks back on track.

"It is extremely important that we find a way through because we believe that it is in the interests both of the European Union and indeed of Cyprus that there should be a positive settlement of these issues and we will do what we can to help," Hoon said in a joint news conference after hour-long talks with Lillikas in London.

Lillikas traded in tough talk of putting Turkey through a crucible for more accommodating language, pledging Nicosia would adopt a "more flexible and creative" approach in reaching agreement on the Finnish proposal.


"I hope that Turkey will also respond positively and will not lose this opportunity," he said.

Hoon repeated London’s steadfast line that Turkey ought to live up to obligations it has signed up to and avoid furnishing skeptics with more fodder to scupper its EU hopes.

"We have made clear to Turkey and I have said many times previously in public that we expect Turkey to accept its obligations under European law," said Hoon.

But the British official watered that down with an acknowledgement that agreement would neither be easy nor swift in coming.

"I recognise that we’re not going to do that in the short term, there are major questions that have to be resolved and we have to address. But in the end, I don’t think that we should simply say this is all too difficult, we’re not going to try," said Hoon.

And as this is understood to be an all-Finland show, Britain is cast in a supporting role called up to use its influence over Ankara to sway the administration of Tayyip Erdogan to agree to a compromise that would ultimately see Cypriot ships entering Turkish ports.

Back seat

A top Western diplomat told The Cyprus Weekly even Turkey’s staunch ally Washington has taken a back seat to a strictly EU matter.

"The Americans know this is an EU show," the diplomat said, suggesting Washington is acting in concert with London to help Ankara overcome the painful compromises it will have to make for the sake of its EU course.

"If the Finnish proposals collapse, then the UN peace process will get nowhere," said the diplomat.

Finland yesterday scrapped plans for three-way talks between Ankara, Nicosia and the Turkish Cypriots in Helsinki this weekend before the European Commission releases a crucial progress report on Turkey’s EU course this Wednesday.

But that’s seen only as a minor setback to the process that would nonetheless continue on a "political level" via more shuttle diplomacy.

Officials are nonetheless cautiously optimistic a deal can still be reached. They base that optimism on the fact that given the high stakes, both sides want to sustain the process rather than kill it outright.

The Finnish proposals reportedly foresee Turkey opening selected ports to Cypriot shipping while the Turkish-held Famagusta port would be open to international trade under EU supervision.


Erdogan’s administration said it would only agree to a ports deal if Turkish Cypriot ‘isolation’ is lifted so as to stave off criticism of "selling out" the Turkish Cypriots.

Nicosia has been adamant any deal would be a non-starter if fenced-off Varosha isn’t returned to its lawful inhabitants.

The Finnish proposals reportedly don’t provide for an immediate opening of Varosha, but an interim hand-over to the UN for an unspecified time period during which rebuilding would begin.

But the Western diplomat said what fuels hope on a deal is that Turkey is still open to the idea of finding some kind of mutually acceptable compromise formula on Varosha.

However, he Finnish proposals have written off Turkish Cypriot demands for opening Turkish-held Tymbou airport to international air traffic.

That’s a blow to Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat who has been petitioning the Finns to include Tymbou in their proposals.

The reasoning goes that with full-fledged recognition of the illegal regime an impossibility, establishing international air links would be all the status-boost Talat would hope to get.

Nicosia dreads the prospect as it would kill off any incentive for Turkish Cypriots to agree to a fair reunification deal.

Although Lillikas and Hoon said they’re on the same page as as far as strategy is concerned, they do differ in tactics.

Hoon implicitly suggested Turkish Cypriots had a seat at any negotiating table where Nicosia and Ankara would sit and thrash out a deal of Varosha.

Lillikas disagreed, saying these are matters for the Cyprus Republic and the Turkish Republic to resolve as equals.

"If it will go to an agreement, this agreement certainly will be between the Republic of Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus," said Lillikas.

Nonetheless, the chill that characterised Nicosia-London relations in the immediate post-Annan plan referendum period appears to have thawed out as both men spoke of building up "a very good relationship".

"The conversations that we have had about the important relationship between the Republic of Cyprus and the United Kingdom have gone extremely well," said Hoon.

Equally enthusiastic Lillikas spoke of a "good start" in improving traditionally close relations through follow-up talks in Nicosia.

"…it is in the interests of the two countries to develop further these relations and there is only one way to develop these relations which is through dialogue," said Lillikas."