Like a broken watch showing the correct hour at least twice a day, Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı was perfectly right in his speech before hundreds of young university students and a select group of invitees to the economy and politics seminar held last week at the “Middle East Technical University-Cyprus.” In his speech, he underlined that as long as there is a Cyprus problem and as long as both of the two parties to this problem remain dissatisfied, even for different reasons, from the status quo, no one can reject either dialogue or the need to reach a negotiated solution.
In a well prepared speech, Akıncı stressed the Turkish Cypriot side believed as long as there is a problem, the search for a settlement should continue. Furthermore, he underlined that whatever the end result of the problem might be, it ought to be achieved through talks. Perhaps, the most important statement of the Turkish Cypriot leader was his firm commitment that Turkish Cypriots will not be the party to close the doors on dialogue or shun the United Nations’ parameters.
Obviously, Akıncı was trying to send some strong messages to his Greek Cypriot counterparts, as well as to the U.N. secretary-general. He was definitely stressing that “bridges were not burnt at all” and the prospect of his return to the Cyprus talks process remained wide open. If that was the message he was trying to pass on, he probably achieved that. But, in the subsequent paragraphs, Akıncı provided some clear conditions that might help the resumption of Cyprus talks. Were they preconditions? Perhaps not preconditions, but Akıncı was clear he would not agree to a new round of Cyprus talks before the format was given a clear reformat. For example, there could be no “open-ended” talks.
As long as there is a Cyprus problem, or as long as at least one of the sides is unhappy with the status quo, there will be need for talks. However, if the talks are to be continued on the same modality as they have been continuing on for the past half century, the conviction of the Turkish Cypriot side is that no such futile attempt can be afforded any longer.
The two sides must recollect their past negotiations. They need to sit back and reconsider what they had indeed wanted to achieve and set some new and realistic targets. Only after that may they resume talks with the hope to achieve a negotiated resolution this time, be it a two-state de-facto federation in the European Union or a confederation of two states. In regards to a federal resolution, I am afraid as they say in Turkish, too much water has passed under that bridge. A federal resolution can no longer be a target of Cyprus talks. Why? Simple. If Greek Cypriots are unwilling to share sovereignty with Turkish Cypriots; if they do not accept the political equality of the two people of the island; if they are still obsessed with the majority coming under minority rule under a federal resolution, is it meaningful to spend time on it as if a federation might be achieved?
Greek Cypriots might strike back saying if there was a deal on Turkish troop withdrawal and an end to the 1960 guarantee scheme, there would be a federal resolution. Nonsense. Would they accept a rotation of presidency? Would they want to see a Turk as president of Cyprus?
Thus, Akıncı, for a change, is right. Whatever will be the end result of the Cyprus problem, it will come through negotiations. That end result cannot be federation. The talks cannot be an “open-ended” process.
If Greek Cypriots are willing to resume talks, they must understand that the Turkish Cypriot side has its own red lines very much like the Greek Cypriots have. If Greek Cypriots still pursue the “0 troops, 0 guarantees” approach, they should understand Turkish Cypriots can never agree on Turkey’s full withdrawal and an end to Turkey’s security guarantee. With such an approach, even a confederation might be impossible to achieve. Empathy must be reciprocal. Thus, the two-state in the EU approach might be the way out that had been implied by Akıncı a while ago.
It is often stated the outcome of the Greek Cypriot presidential elections must be weighted before any new exercise. Why? Because Cyprus talks might become a hostage of the Greek Cypriots’ internal political bickering. Are they not now?
Last week, I was listening to a top bureaucrat involved in Turkey’s Cyprus policy shapeup. He was still talking about how close the two sides had come to achieving a federal Cyprus at the Crans-Montana round of Cyprus talks. How could a top diplomat of that caliber be so naïve? How could he not understand that the Greek Cypriots had never ever wanted a federal solution? How could he not understand that all Greek Cypriots wanted was to get Turkish Cypriots to agree to become a patch up to their Cyprus republic as a minority with some “advanced rights?”
It was comforting to listen to Akıncı but rather worrisome to see a top Turkish diplomat still believe in a defeatist approach. From Akıncı’s statement, I have understood that bridges were not burnt. Bridges remain and sides can walk over to a settlement, but what sort of settlement?