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By Peter Stevenson MEMBERS of Volunteer Doctors Cyprus have treated around 350 people at their free clinic in Nicosia since it opened three months ago, while two more, one in Paphos and one in Polis are due to open today. Limassol also has a free clinic, which was opened only last month, and plans have been drawn ...
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SOME 10 days ago, foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides raised expectations by announcing the possibility of a deal with Turkey for the opening of the fenced off area of Famagusta, for the return of its inhabitants. In exchange the Cyprus government would agree to the opening of Tymbou airport to direct flights. ...
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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Spain targets a lighter shade of pink ]

Spain targets a lighter shade of pink

THE SPANISH were prolific explorers and conquerors in the 16th century. By chance or design, they stayed clear of Cyprus, leaving it to the expansionist fancy of the Venetians, Ottomans and British.

Despite sharing the same sea, Cypriots and Spaniards continued to avoid each other for centuries. Today, however, relations between the two Mediterranean countries are closer than ever. One obvious reason is their membership to the same EU club. Another, less known, is the fact that Spain’s Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, spent six years of his life in Cyprus as the EU’s Special Representative to the Middle East.

The Cyprus Mail cornered the minister during his brief visit to the island last week to learn more about the nation of 46 million.

“I always say it’s a special feeling when we land in Cyprus, like coming back home. Six years is a part of your life,” said Moratinos.

“I had the chance to witness Cyprus joining the EU, and now am coming back when there is strong hope of a final settlement. The first feeling I felt after landing here and speaking to friends was the sense that peace is at hand,” he added.

Moratinos was aware of the paradox that as like-minded Mediterranean countries, the two were not strong historical partners. However, since the island’s EU accession, the two countries have found many common interests to work on.

“In the EU, we feel close together on Mediterranean issues. We are part of the Olive Group [of EU Mediterranean states] formed three years ago. On issues like Kosovo and Cuba we share the same positions. Also, we both have progressive left-oriented governments, but more importantly we believe dialogue and co-operation are the two main tools of diplomacy in the complex world of the 21st century,” he said.

The focus on mouth over muscle was evident in the first steps taken by the socialist Zapatero government: withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq and controversial negotiations with armed separatist group ETA.

A year after the 2004 Madrid bombings, Spain and Turkey initiated the Alliance of Civilisations through the UN to explore the roots of polarisation between societies and cultures in the modern world.

Moratinos notes that ties with Turkey are much stronger now than they ever were. In 1571, the Spanish played a pivotal role in the Holy League alliance that defeated the Ottoman fleet in the Battle of Lepanto. A quick call to the Spanish Ambassador in Athens gives us the modern title of the battle location, ‘Nafpaktos’. Some historians argue that the battle signalled the start of the continual transfer of resources from East to West.

Today, Spain is one of the strongest supporters of Turkish EU accession. The two countries enjoy close economic, political and strategic relations.

“We are well-placed to have good relations with both sides [of the Cyprus conflict] to help the parties,” said the minister.

Dialogue is big on the Spanish agenda. Spain is a supporter of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s initiative for a Union for the Mediterranean, including both EU and non-EU regional members.

The Union is seen as building on the older Spanish initiative to bring Mediterranean countries closer to the EU. The 1995 Barcelona Process also acted as a space where Israeli and Arab officials could sit on the same table for the first time together with the EU.

However, the process has been “lacking political engagement the past few years”, said Moratinos. He described the new effort as “a strategic tool to project the importance of the Mediterranean in international affairs”.

“It must come back to the centre of the debate as it was in the past. To tackle the threats and challenges (security, migration, environment, political and economic developments) looming in the Mediterranean, you need a strong partnership between north and south,” he said.

“You need a space for religions and cultures to live together. That’s been the issue for years. You need political dialogue at a higher level.”

Last year, Moratinos was the Chairman-in-Office of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Some countries see the OSCE as another Western tool used to meddle in their affairs, particularly during election time. The Spanish minister highlights that the organisation has 56 members, spanning an area from Vancouver to Vladivostok.

“Everything is approved by consensus. Moving things forward can be difficult, as you can imagine, but it is the only platform where the former superpowers [US and Russia] sit together. Of course, we have to recognise that things have changed since the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. It’s 2008 now and there is a different sense of responsibility in world affairs.”

He pointed to the fact that a Kazakh was tipped to be the future chairman of the organisation.

“We made a road map to address political reform. We have to encourage this and dialogue is the best way.”

Asked to comment on Tony Blair’s statement that religion would mean to the 21st century what ideology meant to the 20th century, Moratinos said: “Blair had a right to underline the importance of religious revival, but you have to find the right balance.”

The minister highlighted the failure of the Camp David talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in 2000.

“After the Camp David failure, Rabin and Arafat used to say, ‘we used the peace of the brain, but never used a mufti or rabbi to interpret the negotiations’. US diplomats ended up running to the Vatican and Saudi Arabia to get ideas on how to solve the issue of Jerusalem.

“During that golden period of the peace process, no one took seriously into consideration the religious dimension. Now, paradoxically, they are taking it too much into consideration. You have to take it into account, but you can’t forget a final solution will also include issues like land and security.”

So does he support the popular view of some US academics of a future clash of civilisations between Christians and Muslims?

“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You should support the religious side but not be taken hostage by it.”

“That’s why we initiated the Alliance of Civilisations where different cultures work together, regardless of religions. Radicalism is producing terror acts even in Muslim countries. We are all in the same situation. Some want to see religion in a conflict situation, others want to work together,” he said.

Given his experience in the Middle East and his knowledge of Cyprus, one would think Moratinos has had his fair share of disappointments.

“I’ve heard many times peace won’t happen in the Middle East or Cyprus. I’m against that. Although they have not reached a final settlement, every time they advance, you get a sense of history and understanding of the process and the reasons for not getting a settlement.”

For Cyprus, the minister believes all the planets are aligned for a settlement.

“I think now is the best opportunity in the last 10-15 years of closing the dossier, same for the Middle East. There is a sense of urgency that all conflicts must be resolved.”

Terrorism, climate change, oil prices, poverty are just some of today’s real challenges that are troubling world leaders.

“So, we must find a right and respectful solution to the conflicts of the past. For Cyprus, the European dimension offers a good umbrella for solving disputes. In the Middle East, the Arabs and Israelis are much more concerned about Iran’s new role in the region which might bring them together,” he added.

On the home front, the diplomat noted that Spain, like Ireland and Cyprus, has recently experienced a huge influx of foreigners, both EU and third country nationals.

“There are more Romanians now than there are Moroccans. Spain looks at migration with a sense of opportunity not threat. We need foreign labour and we are trying to give migrants all the rights and legal protection possible. But we are also trying to fight illegal immigration, where migrants put their lives in great danger.”

Finally, asked to comment on Silvio Berlusconi’s remark that the Spanish cabinet was “too pink” (predominantly female), Moratinos clarified that he was happy to be part of a pink government.

“We are very proud of that because gender equality is proof of modernity in today’s world. We will put it top of our 2010 EU Presidency agenda because we want to make it a European standard… not just for Italy and Cyprus but every country.”

(Source: Cyprus Mail)

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