Final hurdles in Cyprus
In the middle of a turbulent region, a glimmer of hope has appeared for a solution of the Cyprus problem after five decades of division. The next rounds of talks to hammer down the details of the most difficult issues in the negotiations - i.e. security, territory and the guarantees - will take place in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland, on Nov. 7-11.
The rapport between the two leaders, Nicos Anastasides and Mustafa Akıncı, and their negotiating teams are evident. Since the relaunch of the talks in May 2015, they have repeatedly showed their determination to reach a settlement on the basis of a bi-zonal/bi-communal federation within 2016. Although this self-imposed deadline looks increasingly difficult to keep, the leaders seem determined to continue the talks until they satisfy first themselves, and then their communities, that they have finally reached a sustainable solution.
Next week’s meeting in Switzerland will be conducted under the auspices of the Special Adviser of the U.N. Secretary General on Cyprus, Mr. Espen Barth Eide.
The leaders have decided to meet this time out of the island in order to limit the risk of leaks of the details of the negotiations, as the issues to be discussed at this stage are very sensitive to both sides and might create undue pressures on the negotiators if revealed before a comprehensive solution is worked out. Despite precautions, several media outlets, especially on the Greek side, have already published various scenarios regarding possible territorial adjustments, creating anxiety on both sides.
There are other challenging issues as well, such as whether there will be formal “guarantors” as in 1960, whether and how many Turkish troops will remain on the island, and who will undertake the economic costs of a possible solution, estimated to be around 20 billion euros.
If an agreement is reached by the end of the year, simultaneous referendums in both sides are foreseen for the spring of 2017. The tight schedule is forced upon by the forthcoming presidential election on the Greek side in 2018. The campaign period, which would start in mid-2017, would be potentially destructive for a negotiated settlement. Understandably, the leaders do not wish to be taken hostage by their respective domestic political squabbles before having time to work out the details of a final agreement. Moreover, the tenure of current U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will end on Dec. 31, 2016, and his successor Antonio Guterres might not be able to deal with Cyprus right away due to the other pressing international challenges.
Anyone who follows the negotiations could see that there are still many contentious issues that need to be worked out in a “give-and-take” process toward the end of the discussions. We are not there yet. One of the reasons why it is taking so long to come up with a final draft is that both sides are determined to discuss even the minute details, instead of agreeing on a general framework and a federal constitution and leaving various lesser issues to the new state to legislate. The main reason is, of course, the general distrust that still exists among publics on both sides toward each other, even though the leaders have so far demonstrated a certain level of trust in each other. Moreover, neighboring guarantors Turkey and Greece also need to be convinced, while the U.S. and the EU need to be taken on board, as they would be the most likely sources of finance for the cost of unification.
This is not the first time that the two sides have come close to a resolution. But this time the two leaders, who come from the last generation that lived in a united Cyprus, seem more determined to finally reach a solution in time for a new generation of Cypriots.