Decision time for Cyprus

Decision time for Cyprus

The latest talks held between the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities in Geneva last week, under the auspices of the U.N., failed to produce desired outcomes. The two solution-oriented leaders, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akıncı, and their teams tried to hammer out their differences on tricky issues such as security and guarantees. The meeting became multilateral on Jan. 12 when the foreign ministers of the three guarantor powers met for a day. The summit, with the participation of U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, also failed to generate a breakthrough to end the decades-old division of the island.

Mostly prudent and careful statements made by the two Cypriot leaders after the break of the talks, however, were taken generally as the sign of continuation of the accord between them and kept the hopes for a united federal Cyprus alive for the time being. On the other hand, leaked news regarding the inappropriate behavior and statements of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias represented a different picture. While some on the Greek side also accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for reiterating Turkey’s position regarding the presence of its troops on the Island and the guarantees, however, his remarks came after the break of the meeting not before or during. Thus, there seems to be a general understanding that Greece, or more correctly its foreign minister, Kotzias, had not done his homework to move into the final give-and-take stage of the negotiations.

Nevertheless, all sides agreed to have another preparatory meeting at the level of senior civil servants on Jan. 18 to find a common ground for the next round of the leaders’ summit. Obviously, there is no easy way out for Cyprus and sorting out the thorny issues, such as guarantees, security and territory, which can only be possible with political vision and risk-taking at the highest levels in Turkey and Greece, as well as on the two sides of the Island. Keeping the momentum, created by the exchange of maps to delineate the territory of the united Cyprus, is important at this stage. Clearly however, there is no place, and indeed patience, anymore for antics to be played by any side.

Britain is undoubtedly the most comfortable party at the negotiations having offered almost half of its sovereign bases as territory to the Greek side and presented a flexible position as a guarantor. Turkey and Greece, as guarantors, are still at loggerheads over the presence of Turkish troops on the island and guarantees. Apart from the memories of the 1960s and 1970s, producing insecurity and distrust, the current political and strategic calculations of each side in terms of the forthcoming elections in the Republic of Cyprus and a possible referendum in Turkey complicates the issue and the timetable.

There is no doubt that months of intense talks under the leadership of willing Cypriot leaders, encouragements from the international community, and the prevailing climate of optimism have probably created the most suitable atmosphere since the Annan Plan for a final deal. Yet, to reach there, all sides should give up their maximalist approaches to overcome final hurdles. They also need to garner public support, as there will be simultaneous referenda on both sides to ratify any deal for the reunification of the island. But to be able to move there, Turks should understand how terrifying it is for the Greeks to see Turkish troops on the Island after the solution, and Greeks should understand how insecure the Turks would feel against the Greeks without the presence of Turkish troops and/or guarantees. This kind of understanding and the less-than-maximalist approaches on the territory might finally lead to a solution.