Nicosia – Nine years after my first meeting with President of Northern Cyprus Mohammed Ali Talaat in the serail, I entered his office in a palace situated at a neighborhood in central Nicosia to interview him for the second time.
Talat was the president of Northern Cyprus between 2005 and 2015 and my meeting with him happened in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in Turkey.
Comparing the two meetings, I have found Talaat more energetic and active having lost 20Kg of his weight. He called Arab businessmen to invest in Turkish Cyprus and confirmed that Turkish Cypriots welcome all Arab and gulf business.
The Republic of Northern Cyprus, officially the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, is recognized by Turkey alone and considered part of the Republic of Cyprus by the international community.
When asked about his impressions on the abortive coup attempt, Talaat explained how he hadn’t anticipated such a thing to happen in Turkey. He declared that he started following the news and tweeted on his account condemning the attempt. He admitted that the moment he saw Turkish President Erdogan addressing the people through Facetime, he realized that it was very serious.
But, when the coup was recoiled, Talaat said he did his ablutions and prayed for God thanking him that the upheaval didn’t succeed.
The former president added that he witnessed past coups in 1960, 1970, 1971, and 1980. He said all those coups had destructive outcomes and he admitted that if the coup of 2016 had succeeded, the ramifications would have been painful for Turkey and Cyprus.
Talaat rejected the idea that if the coup had succeeded, the negotiations to unite the two parts of Cyprus would have occurred faster. The negotiations would have rather been postponed and then collapsed completely, he stated.
He explained that the military leaders would have then wanted to prove that they are strong and any talk initiation to settle the situation with Greece would have required concessions; something that would have been impossible after a successful coup.
The former president declared that the Cyprus issue could be solved by the end of this year. He also said that economic issues and Cyprus’ representation in the European Union (EU) has been dealt with through the ongoing negotiations.
He admitted that the only problem while he was in office was the issue of real estate, yet he said the situation is now becoming more flexible.
Matters of security guarantees and the border haven’t been discussed yet, but Talaat said it can be done within a short period of time.
He added that the security negotiations will include Turkey, Greece, U.K., Turkish Cypriots, and other Greek Cypriots. Turkish Army’s leave depends on the resolution that comes out of the convention; otherwise there will be an international treaty that states the stationing of 650 Turkish soldiers in Cyprus.
Talaat said the 1960 international treaty indicated there should be 650 Turkish soldiers and 950 Greek soldiers only, and it remains effective with the agreement of all parties.
Financially, Cyprus depends on Turkey, but Talaat believes that if the Cypriot matter was settled, Northern Cyprus will no longer need financial help from Ankara.
He explained that with direct foreign investments and a boost for tourism, Turkish Cypriots will have a good financial standing.
Yet, the current economic situation is not in a good situation especially with the sanctions on air flights. He gave an example of having to go through several procedures to export products to Europe. This resulted in deterioration in the quality of the local products.
The former president added that they are unable to export their Halloumi cheese because Europe doesn’t accept Turkish cheese shipments. In case they managed to ship cheese to U.K., for instance, it will be through a third-party like Belgium or Bulgaria. He noted that U.S. accepts their health certificates even though they are issued in Turkey or the internationally recognized part of Cyprus. The problem is that Americans don’t like this kind of cheese.
When asked whether he is considering running for presidency again, Talaat said that the upcoming elections are due in four years, and he usually doesn’t set plans four years ahead.
He admitted that he isn’t familiar with the specificities of the negotiations with Greece. Yet, he said that the negotiations are happening at the level of negotiators and not presidents which is the main problem in the whole process, given that when president meet, bigger issues are decided.
In the end, former president Talaat said that the more it takes, the harder the negotiations will become. He said it is although true that this could be the last chance that shouldn’t be wasted, as other opportunities may be more difficult.
According to Talaat, Northern Cyprus will remain unrecognized internationally unless the international community starts looking for a solution.