State Department Special Coordinator for Cyprus Ambassador Thomas Weston is preparing to return to the Mediterranean island for one more round of diplomatic talks. What should we expect from his new mission to Athens, Ankara and Nicosia and would happen in the event that the goal of achieving a Cyprus settlement by May 1, 2004 is not met? These are two of the question Ambassador Weston answered on Thursday (10/9/03) at the Voice of America where he was interviewed by reporters George Bistis, from the Greek Service and Taclan Suerdem from the Turkish Service. The two interviews are currently in the process of being released via satellite to affiliate Television and Radio stations in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus as well as in other counties of the two hemispheres, including Canada and Australia.
Following is the text of the interview Ambassador Weston granted to Mr. Bistis in its English original form.
Mr. Bistis: Our quest today is the State Department Coordinator for Cyprus Ambassador Tom Weston. Mr. Ambassador welcome to our studio.
Ambassador Weston: Thank you.
Mr. Bistis: The last time that we talked about the Cyprus issue was several months ago. In the meantime we have had, of course, a lot of developments concerning this issue, most importantly the accession of Cyprus to the European Union and the rejection of the Annan plan for the area. Can you give us an assessment as to where we stand today?
Ambassador Weston: Sure. Well, you have pointed out several important facts. One is the actual signature of the accession treaty by Cyprus, which we view as a very good accomplishment, especially since it was done without acrimony and it was done unconditionally. This is a significant achievement. We believe that the accession of Cyprus to the European Union will continue to provide an incentive to a settlement and we are operating from that perspective.
The other two elements though of what happened are first what happened with the UN Process itself. There, I think we are in a situation very similar to where we were immediately following the collapse of the Hague last March. We believe that the only way to get to a settlement is through the UN process and through the Annan plan. We also believe that it is very, very important to get to a settlement before the actual accession of Cyprus to the European Union, which is May 1, 2004.
We are of the opinion that is doable but doable only if we return to negotiations in the full UN process, which will only be possible if all the actors in the area demonstrate the necessary political will to achieve this settlement. That was the requirement of the Secretary General’s report to the Security Council. The requirement, endorsed unanimously by the Security Council, is that the Turkish Cypriot community leader, the Greek Cypriot community leader and a high political level of both Greece and Turkey need to demonstrate the political will to reach a settlement. This means they need to agree to finalization of the Annan plan and put it to a referendum. We are still in that posture.
Another element is of course that there have been a lot of changes on the island. There has been this remarkable opening up of the Green Line, which is now witnessed over a million and a half crossings -- a number much larger than the population of the whole island. The incredible thing is that these crossings have all taken place and we have only identified two minor incidents, which can be described as inter-ethnic in a conflict way. To have such short of interaction after such a long period of division, with all the emotions involved with everyone and to have it be so peaceful, is a great attestation to the goodwill of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots towards one another. I think this has to be taken into account as a very significant development in the period you are talking about.
Mr. Bistis: Of course it is. Another significant development lies in the days ahead, the weeks ahead, and this is the election in the Turkish-Cypriot sector. There has been quite a lot of excitement on both sides about these elections although recently, just this week, there have been some charges by a segment of the Turkish-Cypriot press that the United States is interfering in these elections. What is the prospect of the upcoming Turkish Cypriot elections and how do you respond to the charges that I just mentioned?
Ambassador Weston: Well, elections are elections so it is very hard to predict their outcome in advance, as we know from what happened in California recently. Where we stand is there has been a polarization, I would call it, politically in the North as to what the elections mean. Our view is that the agreed platform of three of the parties in the election makes it is so clear that those parties, in a joint way, support Turkish Cypriots joining the EU at the same time as Greek Cypriots, that is on May 1st,. Therefore they are very supportive of a return to negotiations on the Annan plan and putting it to a referendum so that the Turkish Cypriots can decide their future. That clear-cut platform to us means that the elections, although they are for the Parliament in the North, are in some sense an expression of the will of Turkish Cypriots about what they want their future to be. So we think they are incredibly important from that point of view. Coming as they do at a time which would still permit a return to the UN process in negotiation of a settlement it being put to a referendum so that this very happy result of all of Cyprus entering the EU at the same time could take place. What would the outcome of these elections be is very hard to predict in advance. We are watching it very closely, we, as a government, are watching it very closely. We are not alone in that. It’s being watched very closely by every government in Europe and by European publics and it is being watched very closely in Turkey as well and by the Turkish government. We know that. My own sense, having had repeated conversations with a full range of Turkish Cypriots, is that it is likely that the expression of the will of the people of the Turkish Cypriot people in these elections will be very supportive of entering the EU. This means supportive of returning to negotiations under the Annan plan, finalizing the plan and putting it to referendum.
Mr. Bistis: Of course Ambassador Weston there has….
Ambassador Weston: Don’t you want me to answer to the interference question?
Mr. Bistis: Yes please, go ahead.
Ambassador Weston: There have been charges of (American) interference. I have to tell you that we do not choose to interfere. What we have been doing, of course, is expressing U.S. policy and U.S. policy is reflected very much in the vote of the United States in the (UN) Security Council with regard to the Anna plan and the way forward. Our policy is that we think the Annan plan is the only way forward, we support it fully, we believe it should be put to a referendum to the people of Cyprus as a way to resolve the Cyprus issue, we believe it should be done before May 1st. That is a straightforward statement of U.S. policy. If that is interpreted as interference so be it but what we think we are doing is making very clear what U.S. policy is on the subject. We think it’s important to do that.
Mr. Bistis: Ambassador Weston, you will be traveling to the area in the next few days, the week after next, and I presume you will be engaging in conversations with the leaders of both communities. You have been to the area several times before. What would be your mission this time? Do you have any new proposals, new ideas? Are you planning to promote any particular themes?
Ambassador Weston: In going back I will, of course, also be visiting Ankara and Athens as well as the island. I would say that the importance of the trip would be to continue to make very clear to all interested parties what the position of the United States is, as I have just annunciated it publicly too, but in more detail. Also to receive the views, in what is a very dynamic situation, of all the interested parties in the area about the way ahead. I would not characterize this trip as one in which there would be new initiatives. I think that I have outlined what the policy of the United States is and that is not going to change. But we would certainly be interested in discussing with any of the interested parties any ideas that might come forward about ways to move towards the goal that we have, which is a settlement before May 1st, 2004.
Mr. Bistis: What Mr. Ambassador if there is no settlement by that particular day in May 2004? What would happen then? What does the process provide?
Ambassador Weston: Well, it is a very complex question that has legal, technical and political elements to it. From the point of view of the United States, if there is not a settlement by May 1st, 2004 that will not diminish, in any away, our interest as a country in getting a settlement, because we believe it’s important for all kinds of reasons. But the failure to get a settlement for the actual accession of the island will have some practical consequences. In the near term, of course, it would mean that Turkish Cypriots are not able to take advantage of membership in the European Union at that time. , This will be depriving them of something very important in terms of their prosperity, I would argue their security, their sense of who there are, their sense of being European. There are all kinds of legal aspects related to the accession of the island without a settlement, related to how do you manage the Green Line in terms of passage of people, passage of goods and so on and so forth, that at this point and time are not answered. I suspect that the answers are very negative in terms of all Cypriots on the island. There are also real political issues involved. We have talked in the past about the policies of Cyprus and Greece in terms of Turkey’s ultimate accession to the European Union and there is, of course, a decision pending in December 2004 about whether or not to open accession negotiations. If there is no settlement prior to May 1st we will be in a position that Turkey seeking to get a date for accession negotiations to enter the European Union will not technically recognize a full member state of the European Union. That is a very difficult thing to manage being included. I do not have answers to how to address all these aspects but what I see is a whole series of problems which make a settlement more difficult, and certainly the lives of Turkish Cypriots more difficult but also the (lives of) Greek Cypriots, if there is no settlement.
Mr. Bistis: So, the best thing is to have a solution by May 2004.
Ambassador Weston: Clearly.
Mr. Bistis: Ambassador Weston thank you very much for your time and for being with us today on VOA
Ambassador Weston: Thank you.
Mr. Bistis: Our guest today the State Department Special Coordinator for Cyprus Ambassador Thomas West. This is George Bistis, from all of us at the Voice of America good day from Washington.