The Cyprus gamble
The political team of the Turkish Foreign Ministry was apparently brave enough in pertinently asking for American involvement in the Cyprus talk’s process. Expecting Washington to replace the role Alexander Downer was playing until he was posted in full grace as high commissioner of Australia to London might prove to be a costly gamble at the end of the day.
Was it because Ankara wanted to demonstrate it was still the “good boy” definitely well anchored with the West and not drifting east at all? Or was it a sincere move? In any case, it was odd for Ankara to bypass the Turkish Cypriot presidency at the initial stages of this “new initiative” and brokering deals through the Americans and even worse, proxy talks with the Greek Cypriots. Such an attitude, of course, was tantamount to compromising Turkish Cypriot statehood for some conjectural hopes. When this awkward situation made the headlines of media, corrections were made and the process was returned to its normal course and parallel diplomacy was halted. That coincided with the Feb. 11 joint statement – brokered by American diplomacy with Turkey’s carte blanche – that kicked off this new round of inter-communal talks. The return to “traditional diplomacy channels” produced some domestic tensions in northern Cyprus as a new chief negotiator to some degree replaced the prominent role the socialist foreign minister was occupying in the Ankara-led earlier phase.
Since the resumption of the Cyprus talks, however, despite high Turkish Cypriot hopes, no substantial progress could be achieved with the Greek Cypriots, encouraged partly with Washington, London and the European Union extending tacit support to the “Varosha bonus” demands of Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades.
Joe Biden, the American vice president and thus in a way the “vice master” of the new process, was on the island to see the state of desperate affairs of the process his diplomats have cooked up. Last night at Chateau Status restaurant in the Nicosia buffer zone, at arm’s length from the Ledra Palace Hotel that has been hosting the U.N. peacekeepers for the past half century, Biden was having a working dinner with Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu. As this article was penned hours before that crucial meeting, obviously the results that emerged out of it were yet unavailable. Still, the fact that Biden crossed into north Cyprus and, though at the press section of the Turkish Cypriot presidency, met with Eroğlu were landmark developments. No one should forget the caprices staged by the Greek Cypriot leadership against such encounters in the past.
The high issue at the talks was expected to be the “creation of a Varosha committee affiliated with the U.N.” proposal that started to emerge because it became obvious for everyone that, irrespective how generous Ankara might be, Eroğlu will not budge on the issue. Now, there are signs that Eroğlu as well might agree to the creation of such a committee, provided a similar committee is established on hydrocarbon riches on and off the island. Would the Greek Cypriots accept such a deal? Most probably not. Yet, we will all wait and see the American diplomacy at work. Naturally, “nothing is done until everything is done” remains the ultimate rule and no pre-settlement deal can prejudice the eventual comprehensive settlement.
The latest European Court of Human Rights verdict proves, anyhow, the absence of goodwill and indeed the will to engage in a meaningful compromise settlement on the part of Greek Cypriots. The Cyprus gamble of the political team from the Turkish Foreign Ministry has so far badly failed. Can Biden change the prospects? Very unlikely.