Countdown for Cyprus talks
A new round of Cyprus diplomacy and fresh talks are set to take off as early as late February, just weeks after the Turkish Cypriot parliamentary and Greek Cypriot presidential elections. Will new initiatives appear on the negotiating table? Or will the participants resume the previous process that reached an impasse at the Crans Montana dinner on July 5? Does it matter? Of course, even the slightest gesture has meaning in this no longer romantic but emotionally charged corner of the world.
For the failed previous process to continue, Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leader would need to step back and agree to return to talks aiming to establish a federal Cyprus. This outcome would entail another waste of precious time, energy and resources. Another failure.
Greek Cypriots have repeatedly rejected offers to share power with Turkish Cypriots through a federal arrangement based on the political equality of the two Cypriot peoples and a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation. So why bother trying again?
A second and potentially fruitful option entails exploring a new agenda and target for the talks. “Equal participation” for the two sides cannot translate into reality when one side claims “sole legitimate government,” regarding the other as a “minority demanding advanced rights.” A successful process would involve recognizing this basic condition.
A new round of talks should be held between the two states of the island, even if neither party formally recognizes the other. A formula ought to be found to accommodate such talks.
Furthermore, to prevent one side stalling for time with an “open-ended process,” the new round of talks should have a fixed-time period. There ought to be a clearly defined schedule. Sides should know from day one when the process will end as well as the status of the Turkish Cypriot state if no deal comes through. A penalty clause could help force through a Cyprus deal and buck the last half-century’s trend of failed talks.
Certain romantics claim that the two sides almost reached a deal at Crans Montana but that Greek Cypriots could not pass the final hurdle, since they were unable to agree on the rotation of a presidency and other elements of political equality demanded by Turkish Cypriots.
The Greek Cypriot version of the story is much different. In contrast to the talks’ minutes, Greek Cypriots claim the talks failed because Turkey refused to terminate the 1960 guarantee scheme and withdraw its troops from the island. But Turkey did agree to such compromises. They only refused to make written pledges until the final stage of the process.
The Greek Cypriot political and religious leadership has frequently confessed its preference for a two-state settlement over a Turkish Cypriot president. Until recently, the leaders confessed in private. But now they speak openly in public.
Aiming for an outcome sensitive to this reality on the ground as opposed to some impossibly Utopian federation is a desirable option. The idea that “a golden opportunity was missed at Crans Montana” is a fairy tale. Greek Cypriots do not want a federal solution. They are only interested in a settlement that consolidates their firm grip on Cyprus and gives Turkish Cypriots some minority rights. They do not want to share sovereignty or any form of power-sharing government.
If a power-sharing deal scares not only Greek Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades but also Greek Cypriot politicians of all stripes and the Church of Cyprus, why waste so much time trying to strike a deal only to go through the “I cannot sell this to my people” pains?
There are better alternatives, including a “two states in the EU” formula, which would mean a Cyprus confederation in the EU, or possibly a confederal resolution. But if no new resolution options are on offer, no one should say 2018 could be the year that Cyprus finally solves its problems.