Time for UN shuttle diplomacy in Cyprus
The talks between the Greek and Turkish sides in Cyprus have come to such a stage that it is time for the United Nations to resume shuttle diplomacy, according to Mustafa Akıncı, the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
“Too much effort has been spent so far. It shouldn’t be wasted,” Akıncı told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview on Feb. 6 in his office in Nicosia.
Akıncı and Nicos Anastasiades, the president of the Republic of Cyprus, have been trying hard for almost a year to find a solution to reunite the island. It has been divided since the intervention of the Turkish military in 1974 in reaction to a right-wing Greek military coup, justifying it on the grounds that the coup put the lives of the Turkish Cypriot community in jeopardy.
The talks under the auspices of U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres have been able to bring the five parties together around the same table for the first time in many years: The Greek and Turkish Cypriot governments and the three guarantor countries of the 1960 foundation agreement: Greece, Turkey and the U.K.
They are working on a model based on a federal Cyprus republic with two communities. There are opposing parties on both sides and memories are still fresh after more than four decades. A big majority on the Turkish side (around 90 percent) thinks the maintenance of a Turkish “guarantee” represented by the military presence – even if only symbolic - is necessary for any deal with the Greeks. A majority of Greek Cypriots, meanwhile, think the Turks living on the island cannot have political rights and should accept to minority rights.
That makes Anastasiades and Akıncı’s job even more difficult. But they have still managed to bring the talks up to a certain point.
Actually, two former presidents, Glafkos Klerides and Rauf Denktaş, had managed to agree back in 2004 to take a reunification plan presented by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to a simultaneous referendum. The Turkish side approved the plan but the Greek side rejected it. The European Union then did not keep its promises to Turkey, which supported the agreement, about lifting the trade embargo on the Turkish Cypriots and not taking the Greek government-run Republic of Cyprus into the EU. Brussels kept its embargo in place and accepted Greek Cyprus as a member, also representing the Turks on the island against their will. This further increased mistrust between the Turkish government and the EU.
President Tayyip Erdoğan was the prime minister of the time and does not want to be faked a second time.
It is obvious that without an incentive from the EU, the Greek Cypriots will not be inclined to support an agreement, thinking they have nothing to lose from the status quo despite economic troubles. Many think that the natural gas resources found in the Mediterranean could be an answer.
The Turkish Cypriots, meanwhile, have plenty to gain from an agreement, not least the prospect of becoming a member of the EU. They also want the Greek Cypriots to see that peace based on political equality with the Turks on the island could bring new future opportunities.
Akıncı points to the underwater gas fields found off of Israel and Egypt, which are actually closer to Cyprus than Egypt. The most feasible way to transport this gas would likely be a pipeline from Cyprus to Turkey for transport to European markets. Such a route could also be used for fresh water and electricity transport.
Turkey completed the construction of a water pipeline from mainland Turkey to Cyprus in 2016, and everyone you talk to on the streets of Northern Cyprus is now happy to see running water 24/7 for the first time ever.
Turkish Cypriot leaders have always known that they would have to give land concessions for any solution, but Akıncı struck a cautious note. “I cannot take any agreement to my people for a vote without political recognition and Turkey’s guarantee,” he told me.
Peace in Cyprus could be help solve many other issues in the region, such as terrible problems like the Syrian civil war and the Israel-Palestine conflict. There is no bloodshed in Cyprus anymore, but continuation of the Cyprus problem blocks many positive opportunities in the East Mediterranean and the Middle East, one of the most problematic regions in the world.