Eide: “It is a question of how much a violation has actually happened in Cyprus’ EEZ”

In an interview with Greek Cypriot News Agency, UN Secretary General`s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide said the Cyprus problem needs to be solved the soonest.

He remarked that the “hydrocarbon crisis” illustrates the deep disagreements that lie behind the whole understanding of what the Cyprus problem is.

Eide is on the island where on Tuesday he announced that UN-backed talks are expected to resume within weeks following the elections in the TRNC.

Invited to say why he considers this effort on the Cyprus talks a last opportunity, the Norwegian diplomat said “it may be the last opportunity”, he noted.

“Of course, I am not saying that if we have some trouble in three months and a temporary suspension that that`s the end of the day. I am saying in the broad sense I think we have had a very serious crisis with the hydrocarbons, they illustrate that some of these problems, in the absence of a solution, and I sincerely think that it is important now to grasp this moment and try because if there is will, there is a way.

Eide said what has been lacking he thinks, is not that there was no will but “I don`t think there was sufficient will, I really trust Anastasiades that he actually wants this to happen. Of course, he has a difficult political environment which we can all see and I also feel that there is a very strong urge now for a lot of people on the Turkish Cypriot side to get out of a very strange situation that they are now in”.

He said “the impatience of the international community on all sides is becoming more and more evident. That there is a feeling that this really cannot be allowed to go on any longer, we cannot have this unresolved, because it is fundamentally unresolved. It`s not like neutral. It`s an open issue that has not landed and there is in principle only two ways to land which is reunification or separation”.

Eide said he wants to “maintain the optimism that it can be solved and people should go for it and try to solve it.  And this is based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people in Cyprus and elsewhere”.

To a remark that he talks about a “hydrocarbons crisis” but isn`t it a country`s right to explore its own EEZ, Eide replied “yes, there are two dimensions to that”.

“There is the legal argument that is very strong on the Republic of Cyprus (Greek Cypriot side), which is that the Republic of Cyprus (Greek Cypriot side) is a country like every country and it can declare its economic zone. After all, nobody has exploited it by the way. It is a question of how much a violation has actually happened because many countries do not see seismic exploration as a violation as long as they don`t lead to exploitation. Because the Economic Zone is not sovereign territory, anybody can basically do anything there but for taking out the resources. But that`s a very technical issue”, he said.

Eide continued to say “then, there is also another dimension which is the argument from the Turkish Cypriot side that the hydrocarbons of Cyprus belongs to all Cypriots. And one side of Cyprus cannot just venture into making all decisions that will have a kind of an eternal effect on everyone without consulting with the other side. So, there is a legal argument and a political argument. And this actually illustrates the deep problem of the Cyprus problem. It`s essentially contested what is the Cyprus problem. Is it a hijack state, or part of the country is occupied? And we know that we will never get a full agreement on that. But you can get to full agreement on how you reunify. So the hydrocarbon crisis is in essence an illustration of the deep disagreements that lies behind the whole understanding of what the Cyprus problem is”.

Asked if a gesture on the part of Turkey, for instance, the opening of ports/airports and other measures, to Cyprus that would be conducive in helping the process move forward, Eide remarked that “the other side in the negotiations is the Turkish Cypriot side, not Turkey. Of course, Turkey has an interest in this for obvious reasons but the negotiations are between the two communities on the island.”

To a remark by Greek News Agency that the problem is the actual division of the island which is maintained by Turkey, Eide said “again, this is part of the essential contest, that`s a dimension of it, another one, if you are a Turkish Cypriot is that back in the 60s a state that was supposed to be a state for Greeks and Turks was hijacked by one side and turned into more of a Hellenic state”.

Noting he did not want to go into that issue, Eide added “for a long time we have to live with different readings of why the Cyprus problem exists. But it can be solved. And the leaders, in their joint declaration have actually said what they are aiming at – a bizonal, bicommunal federation, one single sovereignty to the outside world, two constituent states. This is what they agreed. What we have to do is to fill in the different components of that and that`s what the negotiations are all about”.

Regarding the introduction of confidence building measures, Eide said “they are good but my focus is not on that. My focus in the UN is the talks themselves on the substance, on the core issues, not fringe issues, because I know that if we solve all the core issues, then everything else will follow”.

For instance, he continued, “a unified Cyprus will be recognized by Turkey, of course, and then the ensuing state will have the same access to ports in Turkey as every other state, the hydrocarbon issue is not any longer a conflict issue but a cooperation issue because both sides already agreed that it`s a federal capacity in a new state. So, a lot of these issues are issues because of the division and will actually evaporate once a solution is found. Because they are expressions of the division.”

Asked if the core issues will be first, he said the restart of the negotiations will include “core issues, property, territory, governance and power sharing”, adding that “it is very difficult”.

He explained that there will be a meeting to declare the resumption, with the leaders meeting to show they are back in business, Anastasiades and whoever is elected in the Turkish Cypriot elections, and from then on we are taking difficult issue by difficult issue and seeing how we move forward”.

To a question if there is a timeframe or deadline, Eide said “2015 is the border framework we are operating inside. I don`t want to say a particular date because the date will become a point in itself but the sooner the better. And this is also what the leaders say, they want to solve this the sooner the better”.

Invited to give his vision of Cyprus in the future, the UN envoy said “it could be a stable, wealthy, interesting, positive place, an example for the world of overcoming past difficulties through peaceful negotiations. It will attract a lot of investments because a solution to Cyprus, it has an ideal location for people who want to be engaged in the Middle East but do not want to actually be based in the Middle East”.

It will eventually, I hope,  he added, “be able to capitalize on its natural resources and so on, and have an economy that is not driven by political decisions but by rational economic choice, and I think that`s a great future but you can only find it by working with other Cypriots. You cannot find it against the other Cypriots because that would only lead to either a continued non-solution or a final partition”, he concluded.