Matthew Bryza: ‘I think Turkey has decided it wants a two-state solution’

Interview with Andreas Bimbishis

First published in Greek, in Phileleftheros

Matthey Bryza is no stranger to Cyprus. An expert on the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkish politics, he has in the past sparked outrage in Nicosia with his remarks on the Cyprus problem. On the sidelines of the Cyprus Forum, we had the opportunity to discuss with the former American diplomat the new world order that is taking shape and the place of Turkey and the Cyprus problem in it.

Bryza says he doesn’t think talks on the Cyprus issue will resume because Turkey has decided it wants a “two-state solution”. He adds that it is not certain that Turkey will achieve this goal, because “it depends on other countries to recognize the two states”. According to Bryza, “if Turkey wants a two-state solution, it must recognize the Republic of Cyprus.”

– The war in Ukraine has affected the Eastern Mediterranean. Will this lead to greater US involvement in the region or will another country fill this gap?

– I had hoped that the United States would have been more engaged in the region. As a former diplomat, I don’t see that. You should have already seen that over the past few months the Biden administration has decided to withdraw its support for the East Med pipeline. This could mean an American withdrawal from the region or a change in perception regarding the dynamics in the eastern Mediterranean. Some senior officials in the Biden administration, whom I know, in my opinion, want relative calm in the region, regarding Cyprus and Turkey. On the one hand, they see a Turkey that is not cooperating with sanctions against Russia, which worries the US government. But on the other side, we have a de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean.

It may sound crazy to a Greek Cypriot, but Turkey has not sent any research vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean since 2020. As you remember, President Erdogan sent the Navy to escort these vessels that summer. All these ships are now moored in the Black Sea. This indicates that Turkey wants a de-escalation of tensions in the region.

I believe that Turkey will seek a two-state solution, which will lead to Turkey recognizing the Republic of Cyprus. This could lead to having a Turkey that is not aggressive on energy issues and a Turkey that can appreciate the possibilities of transporting natural gas from Israel and perhaps, one day, from Cyprus.

– How do you assess the Turkish threats to the Aegean islands?

– Placing troops on these islands is against the relevant agreements. Is Erdogan being asked to remain silent when this happens? Maybe he should shut up. But what will he get in exchange for his silence?

– Is Erdogan’s aggression an electoral tool?

– It might be. But the average Turk, when he wakes up every morning, doesn’t care about Greece or Cyprus. What interests him is the economy. This is the biggest problem in Turkey and the Turkish economy is in bad shape. What Erdogan needs to do to win the election is revive the economy. Thus, Greece and Cyprus are not at the top of his agenda. Also, I think Erdogan is angry with Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ remarks to the US Congress.

– Do you think the East Med gas pipeline will be built?

– I do not think so. First of all, it has no logical cohesion as to its commercial value. It is a very expensive choice for transporting natural gas. You can, through smaller pipelines, transport natural gas to Egypt from Israel and Cyprus and from there invest in liquefied gas and transport it anywhere.

– What if someone doesn’t want a pipeline to go through Turkey?

– Yes, there is always the LNG option. From a commercial point of view, the most rational choice is a gas pipeline that will pass through Turkey, because it is a massive market, with ever-increasing needs.

– There is a school of thought that holds that if a gas pipeline through Turkey is built, Turkey will control the flow of energy and be able to blackmail other states.

– Currently, there is already a smaller pipeline from Turkey to Greece, as well as other pipelines crossing the country. I have never heard a Turkish official use the pipelines as a weapon. In my opinion, the most rational approach to this is for Cyprus and Israel to send part of their natural gas to Egypt and another part to Turkey. This is the most rational and economical solution.

– Do you think that the discovery of natural gas can catalyze a solution to the Cyprus problem, or will it have negative effects?

– The answer is that energy can help find a solution. However, due to tensions, Greece, Cyprus and Egypt may decide to establish an Eastern Mediterranean Energy Forum. This will aim to isolate Turkey. All of this can change. Perhaps allowing Turkey to participate in the forum as a spectator would be a step in the direction of reducing tensions. Or maybe the politicians can step aside and let the corporations deal with it.

– Everyone expects talks on the Cyprus problem to resume.

“I don’t think the talks will resume. I think Turkey has decided that it wants a two-state solution. I think it’s terrible.

– Is a two-state solution possible?

– I do not think so.

– Is the world ready to accept such a solution? Won’t this affect other countries that have similar political problems?

– A two-state solution depends on whether or not the two states are recognized by other countries. I’m not sure they will. The Turkish narrative is that “we put everything on the table, including troops and guarantees, but the Greek Cypriots said it was a big risk”. And Turkey said it was giving up. A UN negotiator told me that. But if Turkey wants a two-state solution, it will be forced to recognize the Republic of Cyprus. And then we will have a new world.

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