No linkage between Turkish referendum and Cyprus talks: Turkish Cypriot President

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There is no link between the referendum process in Turkey and the peace talks for Cyprus, Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı has said. 

“The Turkish government has told us that there is no relationship between the constitutional referendum process and the peace talks,” Akıncı told the Hürriyet Daily News on Feb. 6.

Greek Cyprus is attempting to spread the impression that Turkish Cypriots cannot act before an April referendum and that the north will be more likely to compromise after the vote, he said.

“We are telling the Greek Cypriots ‘we are looking to guarantee our equality, security and freedom, so don’t expect ours or Turkey’s position on these fundamental issues to change after the referendum,” he said. 
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Underlining the need to keep the negotiation momentum high, Akıncı said that following planned meetings in March and April, all the sides will acquire an idea within three months as to whether the process will lead to a solution.

“It has been half a century that we have been talking about a solution. The guarantor states have come together for the first time. Never before have we talked in such depth on issues like territory, security and guarantees. These three months are critical,” said Akıncı.

Turkey should not exclude itself from southern energy corridor

While accession to the European Union as a motivating factor has weakened for both Turkey and Turkish Cyprus, energy cooperation could replace it as the main incentive for a solution, according to Akıncı. Although natural gas finds in Cyprus initially appeared to be lower than that those near Israel, Akıncı said new discoveries in Egypt’s Zohr field show that the island’s natural gas potential was higher than what it first appeared.

“In this case, the most feasible way to carry Israeli and Cypriot gas would be via Turkey to Europe. A similar scheme is valid for electrical grids and water. There are feasibility studies being done by EU funds to connect Israel’s electricity system via Crete and Greece to Europe. But that would be way too expensive compared to Turkey, which is already connected to the European electricity grid. Similarly, it has now been proven that water can be brought from Turkey to the island. The potential could be increased and water could be provided to the whole of the island. Instead of tension, we could breed a culture of cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean. And Turkey should not miss the opportunity to be part of this energy corridor to its south,” said Akıncı.

Greek Cypriots are also suffering economic losses as they cannot use Turkish airspace and ports, meaning that should also provide a motivation to Greek Cyprus, according to Akıncı. “In the past, the working class used to raise its voice for peace. Now, the business communities from both sides of the island [are calling for peace], while businesspeople from Turkey and Greece have established a Nicosia forum and meet from time to time. They are giving positive messages for a solution. That’s a new development,” said Akıncı.

A solution would also be good for Turkish-EU relations, he said. “The EU’s foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, told me that a [Cyprus solution] would not be a game changer, it would be the game changer,” he said.

On the thorny issue of guarantees, Akıncı said they were looking for formulas that would provide security for one side without creating a perception of a threat for the other side. “I think the U.N. has an important role to play here. I think it is time for the U.N. to start shuttle diplomacy,” he added.

Akıncı said his view was to retain the guarantee system and review it in 15 years, as that would provide enough time for Turkish Cypriots to test the functioning of the new federal system and see for themselves whether a Turkish Cypriot could indeed become president. The Turkish Cypriot side insists on a rotating presidency, but the proposal has not been accepted by the Greek Cypriot side, leading to a stalemate in negotiations.

Rights of Turkish citizens

Akıncı also responded to questions on the highly sensitive issue of the rights of citizens from the Turkish Republic living on the island. The 2004 Annan plan had foreseen a quota of 40,000 Turkish citizens who had acquired northern Cypriot citizenship being granted the citizenship of a united Cyprus, Akıncı said. 

“Currently, we made the Greek Cypriots accept that everybody independent of their ethnicity who carries the ID of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus will acquire the citizenship of a united Cyprus. The number we were told by the Interior Ministry was 220,000, and we have conveyed this number to the Greek Cypriot side,” said Akıncı. 

When it comes to the rights of Turkish citizens who work in northern Cyprus, Akıncı said: “They will continue to work. But they will continue to come after getting a work permit in line with the needs of the economy. These permits will be given by the federal government’s committees where we [Turks] will also be present,” he said.

Akıncı also elaborated on the issue of the rights of Turkish citizens living in the island concerning four freedoms: free movement of goods, services, people and capital.

“The issue of Turkish citizens enjoying similar rights to Greek citizens on the island is an issue that we and Turkey attach great importance to. At any rate, we are not talking, for instance, about the free movement of 80 million Turks. That’s not what Turkey is asking for. We are looking for formulas for those who will come to the island to reside and which will not be different than the rights of the Greeks residing on the island,” said the president of Turkish Cyprus.

“At any rate, we have informed Ankara on the talks on these issues and we are in very close cooperation,” he added.

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