NICOSIA - US Vice President Joe Biden failed to make a much-anticipated announcement in the capital on the ghost town of Famagusta’s opening because of unacceptable and humiliating demands by the Turkish side.
This is what Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides (pictured with government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides) told a press conference Friday, hours after Biden ended his landmark two-day Cyprus visit.
“The US Vice President was to announce the opening of Famagusta with the first step being the entry of experts into the fenced city to draft a master plan,” Kasoulides said.
“But this was not achieved because Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot regime raised unacceptable demands, they basically wanted to humiliate us,” he added.
Kasoulides revealed that one of their unacceptable demands was that no Greek Cypriot expert could join the team of technocrats drafting the master plan for the town uninhabited for 40 years.
“They insisted on this humiliating reference. The team could be made up by foreigners as well as by Turkish Cypriots but not by Greek Cypriots,” Kasoulides said.
“And we are talking about a master plan of a town which was inhabited by Greek Cypriots,” he added.
He refused to talk about the other unacceptable demands by the Turkish side.
Analysts believe the most crucial one is probably their long-standing demand for Tymbou airport in occupied Nicosia to be recognised.
The opening of Varosha is a confidence building measure Nicosia was strongly pushing for in a bid to maintain the momentum in UN-brokered Cyprus peace talks re-launched in February. The US supports this view and considers the opening of Famagusta under EU and UN control as a game-changer in the ongoing reunification efforts.
Despite the Varosha deal going sour, Nicosia considers the Biden visit as a historic one with positive results for Cyprus.
“For many years, the US was not really concerned whether the Cyprus problem was solved or not. It kept its distance. Today, it is important because of Cyprus’ upgraded role in the eastern Mediterranean,” Kasoulides said.
“The Vice President’s visit is symbolic and their way of expressing the particular interest of Americans in the peace process but also because Cyprus is poised to become a key energy player in the region,” he added.
Biden’s visit was the highest level by a US official since 1962 and Kasoulides said it was the outcome of year-long diplomatic work by the Anastasiades administration.
At the same time, he dismissed fears expressed by opposition parties that the new strategic partnership between Cyprus and the US could annoy old traditional allies such as Russia.
“Nothing has changed with Russia. We always were and still are strong allies. Moscow respects our contribution within the European Union.”
“Let me remind you that the first EU foreign minister to visit Moscow and have a very friendly conversation with (Foreign Minister) Sergey Lavrov when the Ukraine crisis broke out was none other than me,” Kasoulides added.
On the issue of possible stronger sanctions against Russia that the US and some EU member states are calling for, Kasoulides said Nicosia backs a diplomatic solution.
“We discussed with the Vice President the sanctions issue, we have our views, the American have their views, both sides backed their arguments but nothing has changed.
“The Americans comprehend our concerns, the blow to our economy from possible tougher sanctions. Something that we can certainly not afford these days.”