Yet another glimmer of hope in Cyprus

Yet another glimmer of hope in Cyprus

Looking through the recent punditry on Cyprus, one inevitably feels a sense of déjà vu, as there appears to be nothing new regarding the age-old problem of the Eastern Mediterranean. So far, we have witnessed countless the best and the last hopes/chances before the inescapable train crash in the long, circuitous and problematic negotiation processes that predictably failed at the end. Yet, the world has not given up trying; thus the two sides on the island and their compatriots in Turkey and Greece keep trying even after more than 60 years since the problem first emerged.

We are at such a point once again. This time, a glimmer of hope appeared following the presidential election in Turkish Cyprus held on April 26, 2015, which produced former reformist and moderate mayor of the capital city, Mustafa Akıncı, as the fourth president of Turkish Cyprus. Behind the scenes, the recent discovery of offshore hydrocarbon resources near the island provided another layer for a final comprehensive solution.

Both islanders and international observers agree that the current atmosphere on the island in general and between the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities in particular is the most amenable for a solution since the failed Annan Plan, which was voted down by the Greek Cypriots in 2004. A number of high-level visits by interested actors, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and several foreign ministers, confirm the heightened international expectation.

The two solution-minded leaders of the island, Greek Cyprus President Nicos Anastasides and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Akıncı, resumed U.N.-brokered negotiations in May 2015. So far, there have been hundreds of meetings between the two and their teams in order to find a fair and equitable solution. Apart from the formal talks, the two leaders have come together on various informal occasions, such as taking a stroll in the streets of Nicosia on May 23, 2015, or most recently preparing a joint televised New Year greeting both in Turkish and Greek on Dec. 24, 2015. So far, they have showed their personal goodwill and determination.

The two leaders will share their views this week at a special session of the World Economic Forum in Davos to reaffirm their commitments for an equitable solution in front of the international business community. This would be a good platform to highlight the economic potential of a united Cyprus with its offshore energy resources, and its possible benefits for international investors. Economic cooperation would provide further opportunities for interaction, which could eventually pave the way for a sustainable compromise.

Though they have not yet begun to share the details of the negotiated solution with their communities, the goodwill gestures of the leaders and joint initiatives help to garner public support behind a potential deal. If the leaders were able to agree on an agreement by the end of March, which seems optimistic, simultaneous referenda would take place on each side to ratify the deal and the reunification of the island.

By now, they have registered significant progress in several issues such as governance, economics and relations with the EU. However several sensitive issues, such as property rights, territorial adjustments and guarantees remain unresolved. The current hope is that the prevailing climate of optimism and the agreed upon point would carry the day when the two sides come together for a final give-and-take round. This is of course not much to go on in the reality of politics; both sides need more grounded reasons to give up their maximalist approaches and agree on a compromised solution. The personal commitments of both leaders, as well as strong encouragement from the international community might provide that.