Obama’s failures could become a blessing for Cyprus deal

Obama’s failures could become a blessing for Cyprus deal

When Barack Obama came to the U.S. presidency in 2008, many had high expectations for world peace. In fact, expectations were so high that he even received the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize after only eight months in office. The award was more of an encouragement for intentions than a reward for achievements. Only a handful of people would argue today that his achievements have earned him the peace prize.

This lack of success, if not failures, in the international scene might be a blessing for Cyprus, for there is no better reason to explain the U.S.’s sudden interest in solving the Cyprus issue.

What was only routine up until the early 2000s, has now become major news: U.S. involvement in Cyprus talks. Ever since the rejection by the Greek Cypriots of the U.N.-brokered (Annan) plan in 2004, the Turkish side has been relentlessly asking for the U.S. and other international actors to contribute efforts in resuming peace talks. But up to now the Obama administration has remained rather disinterested. Yet, it is common knowledge that the recent deal over the joint statement by the two sides to resume talks was made possible only after the U.S. stepped in to exert pressure on the Greek Cypriots.

Many commentators have been underlining the gas discoveries in the Mediterranean around Cyprus and Israel as one of the reasons for the U.S.’s increased interest. While one cannot disregard this, I don’t think the gas issue has been a significant factor in the U.S.’s change of mind, or let’s say it has only had an indirect effect.

Some of the observers I have talked to believe the “possibility for a success story” might have been the real motivation for Washington. “After 10 years since the failure of the Annan plan, this is the time the two sides have gotten the closest to a mindset for a deal,” a diplomat familiar with the issue told me.

Anyone who deals with the Cyprus issue for more than five years is bound to become a skeptical and a pessimistic. Turkish Cypriots and the Turkish government have every reason to work eagerly for a settlement, since both have suffered from the consequences of the absence of a deal. That has not been the case for the Greek Cypriots. Greek Cyprus was recognized by the world, and up until recently the Greek Cypriots have enjoyed a high level of welfare. They were accepted to become a member of the European Union, despite their veto of the Annan plan.

But there seems to be three elements that stick in the eye if we are to talk about a change of mind. And that’s where gas discoveries make their entry into the picture. The Turkish side believes the Greek Cypriots see these discoveries as their way out of economic turmoil. Obviously the best and cheapest way to export this gas is via Turkey.

The Greek Cypriots had believed they could use EU pressure on Turkey to make them accept their own terms for a deal. Ten years of their membership has shown this was a futile expectation. The fact that Nikos Anastasiades, the leader that led the last campaign in 2004, is in the presidency, is of course another key factor if we are to talk about a change of mind.

But of course, the perpetual skepticism of successive decades of failure makes us cautious to conclude definitely about a change of mind. Yet, there is another element that makes Cyprus observers be a bit more enthusiastic, which is another novelty in the talks: The simultaneous cross visits to Athens and Ankara from the Turkish and Greek Cypriot negotiators. Cyprus experts say this has a symbolic and psychological value. Greek Cypriots have been longing to be taken as a direct interlocutor by Turkey, something that the Turkish government did not have a problem with in theory, as long as the Turkish Cypriots were accepted as the main interlocutor. If the visits take place as scheduled on Feb. 27, an important psychological barrier will therefore be crossed. And then… both pessimists and optimists will continue to cross their fingers for a final settlement, as they have been doing for years.