EU, US engagement needed for key Cyprus conference

EU, US engagement needed for key Cyprus conference

The Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders, Mustafa Akıncı and Nikos Anastasiades, will meet in Crans-Montana, Switzerland on June 28. The meeting comes after strong pressure from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres to hold another conference in order to bring the two parties closer to a breakthrough with the participation of three guarantor countries: Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom.

After the conference in Mont Pelerin in February, the upcoming five-way conference in Crans-Montana, another secluded spot in a mountainous part of Switzerland, will constitute the second venue for reunification negotiations that were launched in early 2014.

One thing is pretty sure: There is unlikely to be a third conference if the negotiating parties fail to provide a meaningful improvement in Crans-Montana. This message has been well diffused by the senior Turkish leadership following Gueterres’ announcement of the upcoming conference. Officials emphasize that Crans-Montana will be the final opportunity for a negotiated settlement on the basis of the political equality of Turkish and Greek Cypriots.

Although both sides have come to a certain point for a blueprint on six chapters on the agreement of the projected new Cypriot state, there are still areas of disagreement on territory, power-sharing and security-guarantees.

Although the difference on the proposed maps of both sides is tiny, the Turkish side believes it will be difficult for the Turkish and Greek Cypriots to reach a compromise on the issue of territories. However, the real challenge will be on the securities-guarantees chapter. Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades previously imposed pre-conditions on this issue before deciding to join the second conference in Switzerland. The U.N.’s Gueterres could avoid the impasse by suggesting a document that will guide the discussions on this very issue.

As a result of my conversations with diplomats familiar with the negotiations, the document being prepared by the U.N. is planned to shape a very sophisticated framework to provide an efficient and contemporary package of guarantees to let both communities feel secure. This framework will certainly be very different from 1960-dated Treaty of Guarantees, but its modalities will still be negotiated by the two parties - although Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom are currently the guarantor countries.

It is true that the two sides have completely different approaches on this key matter, with the Turkish side insisting that any “zero troops, zero guarantees” position will not be approved and the Greek Cypriots drawing attention to the fact that no foreign troops can be allowed on the territories of an EU member country.

It’s therefore going to be very important that the document to be submitted by the U.N. to both parties is creative enough to establish a foundation for both parties to continue negotiations in the Crans-Montana conference. If it is not, it should not come as a surprise if one of the parties makes clear that it will not attend the conference because the document ignores its security concerns.

In addition to difficulties on the technical negotiations between the two parties, there are unfortunately three challenges driven by international dynamics that are reducing expectations of an agreement.

First is the lack of incentive on the Greek Cyprus side, one of the most important differences from the 2004 Annan Plan process. Already a member of the EU, Greek Cyprus will not approve any pressure from Brussels or any other member countries for a solution. It is also hard to argue that the EU would have the appetite for this at a time when it has to deal with the Brexit negotiations.

The second problem is Turkey’s strained relationship with the EU and a number of prominent countries. It would be hard to anticipate a genuine step from Greek Cyprus under these circumstances. 

The third problem is the lack of attention or contribution to the ongoing efforts from the United States under the administration of President Donald Trump.

Under these circumstances, there is little room for raising expectations for the Crans-Montana conference.

Additional input from the EU and the U.S. will surely be necessary to change the course for a better outcome in what many describe as a “last chance.”