VOICE OF AMERICA NEWSMAKER PRESS CONFERENCE With Ambassador Thomas Weston Special Coordinator for Cyprus Department of State
Broadcast on VOA Radio and Television to Europe at 3:00pm on Thursday, May 6, 2004 Repeat broadcast at 8:00am on Friday, May 7, 2002
Mr. Bistis: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to a Voice of America Newsmaker Press Conference series presentation.
I am George Bistis from the VOA Greek Service and I am delighted to serve as the host of this program, along with my colleague, Hale Ebiri, Editor of the VOA Turkish programs, who is substituting, on a last minute notice, for my good friend and counterpart, Taclan Suerdem. Before I introduce our guest speaker, Hale, would you like to say a few words?
Ms. Ebiri: Thank you George, I would also like to welcome our distinguinshed guests and our colleagues from Turkish and Greek press here in Washington. Taclan, as you said, will not be able to be here among us, due to family emergency, but he will be here in other future programs. Mr. Ambassador thank you for joining us and getting us enlightened for this process, which is hopefully going on.
Mr. Weston: Thank you.
Mr. Bistis: I also take this opportunity to wish Taclan and his wife the very best at this difficult hour. It is indeed a great pleasure and a distinct privilege for me to introduce our guest speaker, the State Department Special Coordinator for Cyprus, Ambassador Thomas Weston.
Ambassador Weston assumed this position back in 1999. He is a career foreign service diplomat for the last 30 years. He has served as DCM to Canada and has been the Director of the Foreign Service School at Georgetown University. He was also Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs and Deputy Chief at the US Mission for the European countries. He has held many other posts as well, too many to mention.
As a journalist, I have followed his career for the last 5 years, practically from the very first day he became involved with the Cyprus issue, and I have witnessed how hard he has worked to keep the dream of Cyprus reunification alive. I have seen him at odd hours at the UN, at the State Department and many other places, in and out of the US, trying to be of assistance to all the parties involved. And I think it is for this reason that he is respected and appreciated in both Greece and Turkey and, most importantly, in the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities.
Ambassador Weston is here to give us an assessment of where we stand today in Cyprus and to discuss the implications of the outcome of the referenda, on the efforts to end the division of the island. He will make a short presentation, and after that, we will open the floor to your questions. So, please welcome Ambassador Thomas Weston.
Mr. Weston: Thank you George. I will do a very short presentation, because I think all of you are well aware where we are right now. I just want to say that we did complete a process which was agreed to in mid-February (in February 13th) in New York, which led to a decision of Cypriots on their future in the two referenda. The decision on the part of the Turkish-Cypriots was an overwhelming vote in favor of the Annan settlement, which was an overwhelming vote in favor of the unification of the island and the establishment of the United Cyprus Republic and in favor of the entire island joining the EU.
The vote among Greek-Cypriots was 3 to 1 against all of those issues. So we are left in a situation, in which, following that referenda, Cyprus entered on schedule the EU, but it entered it as a divided state without a settlement. In this situation, the Turkish Cypriots, though they were the ones supporting unification and entry in the EU as a united island, were left without the ability to enjoy the benefits of said membership. So in the wake of that, we are pursuing several different policy goals. The first goal is unchanged, and that is that ultimately there would be a settlement on the island of Cyprus, that it would be unified, and that also would be able to take advange of the stability, security and prosperity, which unification would represent. We do not see, since the only settlement that we believe is viable or doable has now been rejected by Greek Cypriots, any possibilities for that settlement to occur in the foreseeable future. Contrary decision by Greek-Cypriots, which I think would be up to Greek-Cypriots to comment on.
In the light of that, we are doing what we can to do two things. The first is to do what we can to try and assure that those who were in favor of the settlement do not suffer unduly for that support. That means, very directly, that we are doing what we can to end the isolation of Turkish-Cypriots and promote their economic development and promote their preparation for that day—whenever it comes—when they will also be full members of the EU. Another very important policy goal which we are pursuing, is that it is very clear to us, I think it is very clear to the EU, it is very clear to the UN and the Secretary General, that Turkey and Turkish Cypriots have done everything possible to obtain a settlement. They have fully fulfilled all the commitments which they had undertaken in the process, specifically to fully support the good offices mission of the Secretary General to get a Cyprus settlement.
That being the case, we share a view already expressed by Commissioner Verhaugen of the EU and many others. This view is that it is no longer possible to call into question a positive decision and Turkey receiving a date for ascession negotiations and indeed asceding to the EU, absent of a Cyprus settlement, since of course, they have done everything possible to get it, where others have not. So those are the policy areas we are working on now and I will be happy to take all of your questions.
Mr. Bistis: Thank you Mr. Ambassador. Hale, would you like to recognize the first one or two colleagues and then we will rotate on selecting the other reporters who have questions.
Ms. Ebiri: Yes, we will start with our old colleague Reha Atasagun from Turkish Radio and Television. Reha used to work with us in the Turkish Service. She went back to Turkey and now she is again here in Washington as a correspondent.
Ms. Atasagun: Mr. Ambassador, can you give us more of a perspective as how do you see that part of the world, with the Turkish-Cypriots voting for a full solution and for EU. Do you see a new partner emerging in that area?
Mr. Weston: I don’t know about the way you phrase that question about a new partner. What we see as having happened is there has been a change, if I can put it that way, in the politics among Turkish Cypriots. That whereas we faced a situation for many years, in which I think the Turkish Cypriot political leadership could be fairly characterized as being intransigent, in terms of achieving a settlement on the Cyprus issue. There has been in particular in the course of the last three years a clear movement in the opposite direction, clearly reflected in the parliamentary elections which took place last December, clearly reflected on public demonstrations and so on, and most clearly reflected in the referendum—in the vote for the settlement—that the overwhelming weight of Turkish Cypriot political opinion now is very pro-settlement and pro-EU. This is a different situation. It’s a change, which we obviously welcome, and insofar as we could, sought to foster over the years. So in that sense, there is certainly an opportunity for far greater cooperation if you will and working together with Turkish-Cypriots that I think has been the case in the past.
Ms. Ebiri: Mr. Tulin Daloglu you are next.
Mr. Daloglu: Mr. Ambassador you mentioned you are trying to do everything you can to end the isolation for the Turkish-Cypriots. The State Department has said before that you are working on a plan on how to do that. I am curious how that is possible. Can you help us understand the procedure? Whether it’s enough to end the isolation for the US side with and executive order, or does Congress have to approve that, or do you have to go to the UN to take any step forward to end the isolation. Can you please tell us how you will go through these procedures?
Mr. Weston: You’re asking an exceptionally complicated question, but provided some of the answers in your question.
Lets start of with economic isolation of Turkish Cypriots. It is our view that ending the economic isolation of Turkish Cypriots will most importantly form improving and opening economic relationships with Europe. Whether we are talking about trade, or tourism, whatever area of economic activity, it is very clear given the geography of Cyprus, that when you think of the economics of it, Cyprus economic relationships will be primarily with Europe. So, we are very interested in working with the European Union, and promoting with the EU measures on the part of the EU, to end the isolation of Turkish Cypriots. Some of which were put into affect last week. Others will result for recommendations coming for the European Commission, in the not too distant future, and decisions by the European Council, others resulting for the clear commitment of the EU to make really quite generous amount of funds available, to promote economic development, and preparation for ultimate EU membership among Turkish Cypriots.
For the US, we are also interested in ending that economic isolation. However, we realize that the real economic effect, from the US point of view, just because Cyprus is where it is, will not be as big, as it will be if Europe ends the economic isolation of Turkish Cypriots. So we will be looking at ways to end economic isolation, but also ways to end isolation in other areas. And that gets into the complexity of your question.
Many of the decisions taken over the years, which have led to this isolation, come in all kinds of forms. Some of them are decisions taken in specialized agencies of UN, some of them are decisions taken in NGOs in international federations. To review or to change any of these you have to look at each one of them separately and see is it the effect of a law, or a regulation, is it the decision of an NGO. You respond to all of these things in different ways. And what we are doing is we call it a policy review. We are doing a very systematic analysis to all of these elements that have led to isolation, with the view to doing at each instance what we can to end that isolation. So I can’t give you a definitive answer on one or the other, that is the subject of our review, right now. We have to get information how to change things sometimes in a legal sense, sometimes in a political sense. But we are doing this very much with the goal in mind of ending the isolation of Turkish Cypriots.
We are also looking at ways that we, along with the EU and other members of the international community interested in the economic development of Turkish Cypriots, for ways that we can provide direct financing, to do that. That, of course, you mentioned decisions by the American Congress, anything that involves the expenditure of funds by the US requires action by the US Congress.
So, I’m trying to give short answers to very complicated questions, we will be taking action in the Congress, making suggestions, seeking their support, in terms of economic development. We will be moving in a whole range of international organizations, federations, NGOs, and so on and so forth with the view to ending isolation. And we will, as a result of this policy review, no doubt, will be taking unilateral decisions, where those are possible or appropriate, to end that isolation.
Mr. Bistis: Nick Larigakis from the American Hellenic Institute.
Mr. Larigakis: Mr. Ambassador, for 30 years, Turkey has illegally occupied the country of Cyprus. During that time period, in various negotiations, that you have been involved, you have stated that intransigence has been from Mr. Denktash and from Turkey itself. But, yet, there hasn’t been any outward cry of pressure, a lift of the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, at that time, or any other overt actions regarding a pressure of that nature. Yet, here we are now, where the Republic of Cyprus, after 7 arduous years of negotiations with the EU, went to the EU because she qualified to be part of the EU. On April 1, the White House, stated categorically that it’s up to the people of Cyprus to vote on their future and we are not going to tell them how to do it.” But it seems that the US did not like the way the Republic of Cyprus voted, by 75%, and now has come out, and is making the comments you are making today, “we want to lift isolationism, we want to improve the economic situation,” and so forth. How do you justify that?
Mr. Weston: Well, you are right in terms of your analysis, that it took an awful long time to get to the point. I answered the question. There’s been a sea of change, obviously, among Turkish Cypriots in terms of a support for a solution. That’s a different situation that has existed, you used 7 year, we could choose almost any period of time over the last 30. But there has been a change there. I also think there has been an obvious change in the position of Turkey, in terms of trying to foster a solution. It is very clear, I think, to me, at any rate, that a good part of the reason that we had this success, which I regard as a success in February in New York, which led to at least to try and find a way of coming up with a solution, before Cyprus entered the EU, which was our goal, and a goal ostensibly shared by Cyprus, at that time, was due to two initiatives of both Turkey and Turkish Cypriots, which were then ultimately accepted by others.
I think it is a little misleading to paint it as a situation that hers has been intransigence on one side that continues to this day because I don’t think that is the case. I think there has been a very negative attitude towards the settlement, certainly on the part of some Turkish Cypriot leaders, certainly on the part of some Turkish leaders, historically. But that is not the situation we have found ourselves in over the course of the last several months. We are in a situation now where Turkish Cypriots, with the support of Turkey, and incidentally with the support of Greece, as well, have favored a settlement to the Cyprus issue identified as the Annan plan. Greek Cypriots have not. Now that is their decision. And we respect that decision. What we are now doing, we are looking at policies to adapt to that decision, which we respect.
Mr. Bistis: I would like to say, at this point, that today we have the visits of two Ministers form Greece, here in Washington --- the Minister of National Defense and the Minister of Public Order. A lot of the Greek corespondents who usually attend functions such as ours today are out there covering the contacts of these Greek officials with US government leaders. But the fact that they cannot be here does not mean that they do not have questions for this panel.
One of these colleagues, Dimitris Dimas, from Athens daily “Eleftherotypia”, suggests that “we put any bitter feelings for the outcome of the referenda aside,” His question is as follows: “ Can you as an experienced diplomat see any last chance in Cyprus? Isn’t there anything that can be put at the table this hour, given that, after all, you all came so close to a solution?”
Mr. Weston: Well, the first part of the question, there have been these accusations of bitter feelings. I think this underestimates the ability of the US to deal with the world in a rational manner. There is no question that we regret that a settlement was not possible. That being said, I just said to Nick, this was always premised on a decision of the people of Cyprus. Greek Cypriots decided they are against it and we respect that decision we are now going forward to adjusting to that new situation. But the question of bitterness in not really relevant. And there have been accusations of punishment and all that, I think they are completely misleading. I think what we are doing is a rational policy examination in the wake of a changed situation internationally. That’s what responsible nations do.
Your second situation: “ is there a chance?” I think our assessment is that there will ultimately be a settlement to the Cyprus issue. We do not believe that that settlement will be significantly different than the Annan plan, whenever it comes. We do not see a way of reaching a settlement in the foreseeable future, other than by a different decision by the Greek Cypriots. We don’t see an alternative to the Annan plan, we don’t see a possibility of its renegotiation, we don’t see who would do that, we don’t see with whom renegotiations will take place. So the fair answer to your question is if Greek Cypriots decided one day that they favored the settlement, the only settlement that we see there, on the table, and we are not alone in that assessment, that would be a way forward. But there is certainly no evidence. That is the situation right now.
Mr. Bistis: Hale, would you do the honors?
Ms. Ebiri: Thank you George. Right now there are two important visits going on, one of them is the Turkish-Cypriot Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat’s visit to Washington and the other one is Turkish Prime Minister’s, Tayip Recep Erdogan’s visit to Athens. They show us perhaps that the Cyprus issue is very much on the agenda, and so answers might come form these visits, specially for the one in Athens. We were hoping to have with us today our Turkish Cypriot colleagues who are accompanying Mr. Talat in Washington. Oh, I see one of them is here and we would like to welcome him. Would you like to ask a question sir?
Mr. Bistis: I would also like to add a warm welcome to our colleagues from Cyprus.
Mr. Erguclu: Thank you. I am Sόleyman Ergόηlό from Kύbrύs Media Group. Mr. Ambassador, I apologize first for being a couple of minutes late, and if I ask a question which might lead you to repeat something, I apologize. The Turkish Cypriots are now being fed with hope that they will be relieved of the forty year old isolation. Now we are hearing very encouraging statements from the United States but we have not yet seen any concrete package or measures. And apart from that, more importantly we haven’t seen or heard any timetable of any measures. So could you please shed some light on this point, Mr. Ambassador?
Mr. Weston: Let me deal with the last question first, on the timetable. I think there had been actions taken by the European Union last week. I believe they are very significant actions. They are certainly not sufficient actions in the sense of ending Turkish Cypriot isolation. But they went quite far in trying to assure freedom of movement for E.U. citizens on the island, as well as to expand possibilities for inter-island trade, far beyond what had been done in the past. So that is already being done. On the decision of economic assistance that has been taken by the E.U., we now wait for the Commission’s recommendations on how to further end that isolation in particular with regard to the possibilities of trade, directly with Europe. And we expect that those recommendations from the Commission will be presented to the European Council also, in the not too distant future, hopefully a matter of weeks, not months. And I repeat that phrase again when I talk about U.S. actions. We are of course undertaking a very substantial policy review, as I describe it, which covers all kinds of areas.
Decisions will be taken as each of these areas are examined as to determine what can and can not be done, and the procedure necessary to do something, which as I said in response to the previous question, would be different, depending on the organization we are dealing with and the decisions we are dealing with. But I think that you can expect to see decisions from the United States on various aspects of this, on a continuing basis. Now, in fact a decision was taken which led to a meeting between the Secretary of State and Mr. Talat in New York two days ago. I would regard that as a decision already taken by the U.S. I know that I am going back, I am going to spend most of my afternoon in examination of all of these policy options. I know how complicated it is, but I think you can expect decisions forthcoming both from EU and the U.S. from now forward. And I think, once again, those decisions will come in terms of weeks, not months.
Another very important factor in the timeline, as we are waiting the report of the Secretary General of U.N. to the Security Council, which would lead to a discussion within the Security Council of actions to be taken, the implications of further action and so on. That report, we understand will be forthcoming within the next two weeks, which means discussion and action by the Security Council still in this month. So, once again, I would use the phrase, we are talking about decisions and actions in weeks, not months.
Mr. Bistis: Our engineers warn us that the half hour we have allotted for this program is over. But I have requested for the broadcast time to be extended by another five minutes in order to be able to take a couple more questions. I know that άmit Erginsoy from our Affiliate Station NTV in Istanbul has a question and I also have a question from one of the Greek reporters. So, Mr. Ambassador, if you could give brief answers, so that we can accommodate both questions in the next five minutes.
Mr. Erginsoy: Mr. Ambassador Turkish Cypriot P.M. is still in town and you have been meeting with him. How do you evaluate your contacts and has there been any contribution to your decision making process. And secondly, and very briefly, can you formally confirm that launching or providing permission for direct U.S. flights to Northern Cyprus is seriously considered. Thank you.
Mr. Weston: Well, we are in the middle of the visit. I will evaluate it as very positive. I expected it to be exceptionally positive by the time it is completed. There are whole series of meetings that are still taking place today and this evening. I know the Secretary of State was very satisfied with his meeting which took place two days ago and I also happen to know that the Secretary General of the United Nations was very satisfied with his meeting. So, I would characterize it as very positive and having a very positive impact on our examination of ways to end the isolation of Turkish Cypriots.
On your second question, which was very specific and it is one of the toughest and most complicated questions to deal with. It is now being examined by all the relevant authorities in the American government and being explored with the relevant specialized agencies of the U.N. which have responsibilities which will effect whether this is possible. But yes, it is very much under examination.
Mr. Bistis: The next question comes from Lambros Papandoniou of Athens daily, Eleftheros Typos. He asks: “Mr. Ambassador, what is the U. S. Policy vis-a-vis to the Green Line regulation adopted by the E.U., on April 29, which does not recognize the Green Line as a European Union border?”
Mr. Weston: Well, it is of course a decision of the E.U. In so far as we have a policy. The decision of E.U. is one, which is intended to ease isolation of Turkish Cypriots. It is a decision, which we very much support. It is a very complicated decision, it is only the first step of a series of decisions by the E.U. But in so far, as you have the specific question of the Green Line is not an external border of the E.U., of course all of Cyprus entered the E.U.. So there can be no question of the Green Line being a border of the E.U.
I think the whole intend of the decision taken last week and the decisions that will be taken by the E.U. are in fact exactly in the opposite direction, to not have it be a border, not have it be a border or a barrier to the free movement of E.U. citizens within the E.U., remembering the North (of Cyprus) is included in the E.U., technically, nor to the movement of goods, services, capital and so on and so forth, which is at the heart of what the E.U. is.
Ms. Ebiri: Mr. Ambassador thank you very much for being with us today. For those who want to read or hear our programs please visit our web site at the address: www.voanews.com/Turkish.
Mr. Bistis: …and of course if you want the see the daily output of this station’s Greek programs please visit us at www.voanews.com/Greek. This is all the time we have for today. From my co-host Hale Ebiri and all of us at the Voice of America, thank you for watching and have a good day.