Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos talks to Abdel-Azim Darwish about prospects of deepening friendship and fruitful collaboration between Egypt and the Mediterranean island nation, which is now a fully-fledged and prosperous European Union member-state
Egypt and Cyprus are closely linked by geographical proximity and by strong historical ties and have traditionally maintained excellent bilateral relations. The diplomatic relations between Cyprus and Egypt reestablished at the time of our two late presidents, Archbishop Makarios and Gamal Abdel-Nasser, have gradually developed into deep, cordial and exceptionally strong bonds of friendship and cooperation. Both counties had to struggle to gain their freedom. In an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Below are excerpts of the interview.
ON BILATERAL ECONOMIC AND TRADE RELATIONS:
Cyprus and Egypt have signed and implemented 19 agreements and protocols covering areas of cooperation as diverse as trade, tourism, investments and health. Our aim is to expand our close cooperation on issues such as energy and merchant shipping as well as to collaborate further on issues of search and rescue, of culture and education, science and technology, information, technology and services.
ON CYPRIOT-ARAB RELATIONS: Cyprus has long been a trusted friend of the Arab countries and especially of Egypt. We enjoy the mutual respect for each others' history, religion, culture and tradition. These relations have been an integral part of our foreign policy. Our cooperation in the United Nations and other international fora and previously within the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, have crated coherent bonds that endure in time.
The accession of Cyprus to the European Union does not mean moving away from our traditional relationships. On the contrary, we aspire to work for the further improvement of the relationship between our traditional friends in the Arab world and the European Union.
ON THE PALESTINIAN QUESTION: The people of Cyprus have close to their heart the plight of the Palestinian people. Cyprus has welcomed and encouraged the peace process in the Middle East. We follow the developments on the situation of the Palestinian question with deep concern and our long held position has been entirely consistent and in line with international law and the relevant Security Council resolutions, namely 242 and 338.
Furthermore, Cyprus has welcomed and encouraged the peace process since its inception. We look forward to the day when an independent Palestinian state will exist in peace and prosperity side by side with the state of Israel. We have supported the efforts of the Quartet and full implementation of the Quartet Roadmap. We continue to convey to both parties, the Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel, that the principles of the Roadmap are the main principles for a final settlement. We hope that a peaceful and negotiated solution will be found in the Middle East that will lead to the establishment of a viable and economically sustainable Palestinian state.
ON CULTURAL DIALOGUE: Cyprus has been concerned for many years about the growth of religious intolerance and the absence of interfaith dialogue. The recent crisis, sparked by the publication of drawings depicting the Prophet Mohamed further underlines the need for an enhanced and continued dialogue for a better understanding of the historical, religious and cultural expressions among people of different faiths.
The Republic of Cyprus has hosted during the last decade several activities relating to interfaith and intercultural awareness and understanding and we will continue to work towards this direction, supporting the mechanisms that promote these objectives. The Anna Lindh Foundation which your country is hosting in Alexandria, is a primary example of such an initiative and its reinforcement and empowerment have much to offer towards this direction. We thus support its mission strongly.
Cyprus, in its efforts to contribute effectively to the enhancement of dialogue between religions for better understanding and mutual respect, is hosting next July, in collaboration with Malaysia, the Second Session of "Interfaith Dialogue" of the Asia- Europe Meeting (ASEM). The meeting will discuss potential ways of achieving interfaith understanding, the ever topical subject of the media, and the role of religion in multi-ethnic societies. I am certain that this event will make a positive contribution to the global efforts to build solid and sustainable interfaith and intercultural bridges within the world community.
ON INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM: International terrorism has indeed emerged as a phenomenon which cuts across the political, social and ideological realms. The government of the Republic of Cyprus, like Egypt, has included the fight against terrorism in its foreign policy priorities and is fully committed to joining forces with other governments to eradicate this scourge in all its manifestations and forms. To do this we are taking all the necessary practical measures, in close cooperation with our European partners and the international community in general. Cyprus considers that the countering of terrorism should naturally be conducted on the basis of respect of fundamental human rights and personal freedoms. Let me say that we welcome the proposal of President Mubarak. This proposal was discussed during the Euro-Med meeting of November 2005 in Barcelona, and an agreement was reached that it would take place after the international community reaches an agreement on the adoption of the Comprehensive Convention against International Convention. I would also like to underline that the Republic of Cyprus is a contracting party to all 12 conventions and protocols on terrorism, and is also a signatory to the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
ON THE CYPRIOT ECONOMY: The Cyprus economy is based on fundamentally sound features. It exhibits macroeconomic stability, satisfactory growth and employment performance as well as social cohesion.
In 2005 the Cyprus economy fulfilled all the criteria of the Mastricht Treaty, which constitute a necessary precondition for entering the Euro zone on the targeted date, namely the 1 January 2008.
In more concrete terms, Cyprus enjoys a relatively high per capital income which amounts to 84 per cent of the EU average and it is now $20,000 per capital. In 2005, the economy has grown at a high level in terms of economic growth and the growth rate is projected to reach four per cent while further acceleration is expected for 2006.
The inflation rate is expected to remain at low level this year (about 2.2 per cent), reflecting preservation of conditions of macroeconomic stability.
The Cyprus economy succeeded in maintaining conditions of near full employment in 2005. In 2006, unemployment is expected to fall mainly due to acceleration of economic growth.
Public finances during the last two years were significantly improved. The fiscal deficit (2.5 per cent in 2005) and the public debt (71 per cent of GNP in 2005), were reduced as a result of the implementation of the Convergence Programme of the Republic of Cyprus, covering the period 2004-2008. The improvement of the fiscal situation is mainly due to the containment of public expenditure and to the improvement of tax efficiency, without an increase of the taxation rate.
The next expected landmark for Cyprus economy is the adoption of the euro at the targeted date of 1 January 2008.
ON THE CYPRIOT DIVIDE: The Cyprus problem is not of a religious nature. It is the result of the illegal invasion by Turkey and the continuing military occupation, since 1974, of almost 37 per cent of the territory of the sovereign Republic of Cyprus, in blatant violation of the United Nations Charter and numerous UN resolutions. Turkey continues to promote its strategic objective of exercising control over Cyprus, through the illegal presence of its occupation forces.
It must be borne in mind that the population of Cyprus is composed of 82 per cent Greek-Cypriots and only 18 per cent Turkish Cypriot. The privately owned land as to 88 per cent belongs to Greek-Cypriots and as to 12 per cent to Turkish-Cypriots. The Turkish troops occupy 37 per cent of the territory of Cyprus at the invasion and by force of arms evicted the Greek- Cypriots, who were the majority population in the area, from their homes and properties.
In spite of our untiring effort to reach a settlement, Turkey in contravention of the aforementioned resolutions and international law, and by keeping 43,000 troops, tries to consolidate the unacceptable status quo and legitimise the illegal secessionist regime in the occupied part of Cyprus.
My government remains firmly committed to ending the forcible division of our country and our people, by reaching, through peaceful negotiations, a comprehensive settlement, based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal state, with a single sovereignty and international personality. The solution must truly reunite the country its territory, society, economy and institutions and be beneficial for both communities on the island. To this end, I assure you that we will spare no effort.
The first commitment is demonstrated by the positive result of my recent meeting, in Paris, with the Secretary-General of the UN Kofi Annan. In the context of the meeting, it was commonly agreed that resumption of the negotiating process should be timely and based on careful preparation. It has always been my firm conviction that in order for a new initiative to have good prospects of success, we should spare no effort to prepare the ground sufficiently. A new failure would indeed be catastrophic.
During my meeting with the secretary-general, we expressed the common hope that bi-communal discussions at technical level would help restore trust and prepare the ground, in a substantive way for the resumption of the negotiating process. It was also agreed that it would greatly improve the atmosphere for further talks, if progress would be achieved on confidence building measures and on issues like de-mining, disengagement, demilitarisation and the return of the occupied city of Famagusta which remains totally deserted from its lawful owners and inhabitants who before the invasion was totally Greek-Cypriots. It is our expectation and indeed hopes that the Turkish side will respond positively to the outcome of the Paris meeting in order to enable discussions to commence, thus leading to more effective and qualitative negotiations on the Cyprus problem.
Moreover, the authorities of the Republic of Cyprus have so far issued Cyprus Republic passports, identity cards and other certificates to several thousand Turkish Cypriots, who are thus enabled to enjoy full benefits as European Union citizens.