The ball is in Ankara and Athens’ court on Cyprus
Some are tired of hearing it, while some don’t even want to hear it. Yet, in terms of the leadership on the divided island of Cyprus, there is the right alignment of stars. Both Turkish leader Mustafa Akıncı and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades genuinely want to find a lasting solution and have succeeded in narrowing the gap on the most sensitive issues. But they are obviously sensitive to their respective publics and, therefore, need the encouragement of Ankara, Athens and the international community.
Yet that is where we lack the right alignment of stars.
The Geneva talks that started on Jan. 9 are expected to be followed by the five-party conference with the added participation of the guarantor powers of Turkey, Greece and Britain. It is the first time the guarantor powers have been meeting since 1960. That in itself should tell us that all sides should be sitting at the table with the aim of finalizing a deal to end the decades-old conflict.
Yet look at what Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said ahead of the Geneva talks: “We have received assurances from the United Nations that this negotiation will be what we call in international debates ‘open-ended’ which means it will be a negotiation which, even if it stops, it will not be viewed as having collapsed, but that it can continue in the future with more preparation.”
This hardly reflects a willingness to see the Geneva talks end with a successful outcome.
That is rather reminiscent of the rhetoric of the Turkish side in the 1990s – a rhetoric that downplayed the efforts to find a solution but reflected a sense of dragging feet. Unfortunately, Athens does not seem to be on board. While the Greek Cypriot administration is in need of support from Athens, one has the feeling that Anastasiades and his team have been at pains to keep hawks like Kotzias and his team on board. What a pity.
How about Ankara? So far, Turkey has left Mustafa Akıncı’s hands relatively free. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s stance will be critical. The rumors that he might not go to Geneva and send the prime minister is not a good sign. As he is the most unpopular leader in Europe, it is going to be easy to blame Erdoğan. But the lack of enthusiasm on the part of Athens is certainly discouraging Turkey, fueling the sentiment that concessions are expected only from the Turkish side.
If the Greek Cypriot side, supported by Athens had the courage to go that extra mile, the Turkish side would not hesitate to go ahead and take the necessary steps for a compromised solution.
In that framework, the role of the international players gains a crucial importance especially in terms of encouraging the negotiating parties.
But there, too, we don’t have the right alignment of stars.
Russia does not want a solution. The U.S. is in the midst of a transition. It is doubtful to what degree the guarantor, United Kingdom, which is busy with its own Brexit agenda, has leverage on the negotiating parties, while the European Union is lost in translation, to use a metaphor.
Anastasiades and Akıncı have come extremely close to solving the most thorny, sensitive and complicated issue of the problem, property. It is going to be up to Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to agree on the issue of guarantees. A formula based on the presence of a decreased number of Turkish soldiers for a certain period of time, after which the issue could be revisited is a meaningful formula to work on.
It would be a pity to see the talks fail if the Greek side insists on ending the guarantee system with not a single Turkish soldier left on the island.
When I was in the south to cover the 2004 referendum for the Annan Plan, almost everybody I talked to said they would vote “no” because the plan allowed for the presence of a few hundred Turkish soldiers. As a result of their “no” votes, they have been living with 30,000 Turkish soldiers on the island.