By Muhammet Ikbal Arslan
LEFKOSA, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (AA) - The sides of the Cyprus dispute need to talk and collaborate on specific issues before a comprehensive solution can be reached, a high-level Turkish Cypriot official said on Friday.
Underlining the failure of 50 years of negotiations to resolve the disputes on the Eastern Mediterranean island, Kudret Ozersay told Anadolu Agency that the fate of an abandoned southern quarter of the Cypriot city of Famagusta must also be decided.
Asserting that negotiations for a comprehensive resolution to the dispute were caught in a deadlock, Ozersay said Closed Maras -- or Varosha in Greek -- had become "a symbol of the status quo" on Cyprus over the years.
If the situation surrounding Closed Maras was resolved, this could act as a much-needed jolt towards more productive talks, the deputy premier and foreign minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) said.
Ozersay underlined that the TRNC government was in consensus on a future vision of the area, and that it intended to formulate its future policy on the issue based on scientific data, that it would soon reveal.
Closed Maras was abandoned after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 550 on May 11,1984, which barred the resettlement of the town.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island's Turks and Ankara's intervention as a guarantor power.
Since then, entry to Closed Maras has been forbidden with the exception of the Turkish Army personnel.
- Federal partnership
"The Greek Cypriot community is not ready to share the administration and wealth with the Turkish Cypriot community," Ozersay said on the so-far failed peace talks on the island.
He described wealth and power-sharing as one of the most important elements in a potential federal partnership.
Criticizing the Greek Cypriots' accession to the EU before reaching a solution on the dispute on the island, as well as the treatment of the Greek Cypriot administration as the only legitimate government, Ozersay said the establishment of a federal government would require that "existing conditions" be changed.
- Cooperation-based partnership
Ozersay expressed the need to discuss alternative models for partnership between the two sides.
He recommended "gradual establishment of a partnership based on cooperation instead of a federation based on sharing."
Noting that the Turkish side had ramped up its efforts in the Eastern Mediterranean after 2011, Ozersay underlined that its recent steps were not intended to create tension.
"Our activities are not aimed at preventing Greek Cypriots' activities, rather aimed to balance them," he said.
"Using force in the Eastern Mediterranean is out of the question, unless someone tries to hinder our commercial activities," he added.
Ozersay stressed that it was unfair to demand that Turkish Cypriots to postpone their right to use natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean until a solution was reached, while Greek Cypriots are allowed to use these resources now, without a solution.
- Natural gas promises 'concrete opportunity' for interdependence
Ozersay highlighted that energy or natural resources represented another area in which the parties could make progress before a final agreement.
Stressing the importance of regional actors’ inclusion in any such platform for cooperation, he said this would facilitate greater stability and security.
"The issue of natural gas stands as a concrete opportunity for us to develop interdependence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots," Ozersay added.
Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the TRNC also has rights to the resources in the area.
Since this spring, Ankara has sent two drilling vessels -- Fatih and most recently Yavuz -- to the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting the rights of Turkey and the TRNC over the resources of the region.
The Turkish-flagged drillship, Fatih, launched offshore drilling operations this May in an area 75 kilometers (42 nautical miles) off the western coast of the island of Cyprus.
Athens and Greek Cypriots have opposed the move, threatening to arrest the ships’ crews and enlisting EU leaders to join their criticism.
*Writing by Zehra Nur Duz