A glimpse of hope for Cyprus

A glimpse of hope for Cyprus

Nikolaos Stelya
The Cyprus problem is a story of disillusionment. Starting from the mid-1950s, hopes and grand projects were always followed by catastrophe, disillusionment and bitterness. The conflicting nationalist projects and ambitions, as well as the diplomatic and socioeconomic tension in the Eastern Mediterranean region constantly overshadowed prospects for a solution.

Recently, another glimmer of hope, the momentum of the Joint Declaration announced by the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaderships, was lost because of the conflicting views expressed on the negotiation table and the tension in the waters around Cyprus. Raising its voice against the presence of Turkish military and research vessels on its shores, the Greek Cypriot side, having agreed with Athens, withdrew from the negotiations.

The end of the negotiations and the negative atmosphere on the island did not prevent international players, and especially the U.S., from taking serious backstage initiatives. Different elements on the international front pressed the two sides to resume the negotiation process. Last November, the U.S. vice president visited Istanbul and discussed the situation with the Turkish government. At the same time, through diplomatic and other back channels, Washington searched for a “golden solution” to resume the negotiation process.

In December, taking into consideration the interest of the Western bloc for new momentum in Cyprus, the governments of Greece and Turkey discussed alternative scenarios for Cyprus in Athens. Shortly after these meetings, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu asked the Greek foreign minister to join him for a historic joint visit to Cyprus. However, this interesting proposal stumbled on the suspicion of the Greek Cypriot presidential palace. “Where is the promise for the withdrawal of the Turkish ship from our waters?” asked President Nikos Anastasiadis and his colleagues, choosing to silence the fact that the Greek Cypriots are not ready to discuss the merits of the Turkish Cypriot side’s interests in the natural gas reserves of the island.

Despite the above-mentioned suspicion of the Greek Cypriot side and the antiquated nationalist angle of the Turkish Cypriot leadership, which fails to understand the new realities of the region, today the international factor is just one step away from achieving significant progress in the Cyprus negotiations. As has already been announced by the Greek Cypriot negotiator, both sides are within touching distance of a deal that will open the door to the resumption of talks. With the active involvement of the international element and the U.S., the two sides can focus their attention on two goals: Withdrawing Turkish ships from Cyprus’ waters and temporally halting the work of the ENI to find offshore gas deposits in the waters around Cyprus. This would lead to the unconditional restarting of negotiations. According the latest information in Kathimerini Cyprus newspaper, after the approval of this plan, the two leaderships could return to the negotiation table, probably after the end of the presidential elections in the northern part of the island.

Focusing to the aforementioned formula, we must keep in mind the real motives of the international element and the U.S. We must remember that the main priorities of Washington in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea are twofold: Firstly, the U.S. supports the plan to connect (via diplomacy and energy) Israel and Cyprus to Europe through Turkey and Greece. Secondly, Washington prioritizes limiting the sphere of influence of rival powers in the Eastern Mediterranean region - such as Russia and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Whatever the actual motives of the West may be, those who continue to support the federal settlement in Cyprus have a single option: To hope that the new plan will not be sacrificed at the altar of micropolitics and nationalism. We must be hopeful in the Nevruz period, which brings the spirit of spring to our lands…

Dr. Nikolaos Stelya is a historian, researcher and correspondent for daily Kathimerini newspaper.