UN’s Ban Ki-moon plans high-level engagement for Cypriot talks

UN’s Ban Ki-moon plans high-level engagement for Cypriot talks

Cypriot talks were launched Feb. 11 after a nearly 18 months’ long break, with high hopes that the two parties would agree on a settlement that would reunify the divided island. The joint statement declared by Derviş Eroğlu and Nikos Anastasiadis constituting a framework for negotiations is believed to be a balanced one and, in addition, the international conjuncture seemingly suggests a better climate to push the two sides for a breakthrough this time.

Only a few days after talks were launched in Cyprus, a high-level U.N. delegation, led by Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, paid a visit to Ankara to hold talks with Turkish officials on both the Cyprus and Syria talks.

According to diplomatic sources, meetings between the Turkish and U.N. officials were focused on two main topics, Syria and Cyprus, both regional problems awaiting a political solution under the U.N.’s auspices.

The most important message Feltman delivered to Ankara was the fact that U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki Moon wants to play a very strong role during the negotiations and is planning high-level engagement. He has already made it clear in his written statement the U.N. will pledge its resolute commitment to the efforts of Turkish and Greek Cypriots. The U.N. is still working on how to define the secretary-general’s commitment to the process. But differently from the 2004 Annan Plan process, the U.N. Secretary-General will have no authority of filling in the blanks of an agreement. The U.N.’s role in the 2014 process will be a limited one in a bid to create “a fully Cypriot plan” that is believed to increase the probability of its approval by both communities in referendum.

Ankara welcomes the U.N. and Ban Ki-moon’s commitment to the process, but also makes it clear to the U.N. that the settlement of the Cyprus problem is a matter of urgency for Turkey. As Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu earlier said, open-ended talks are not on Turkey’s agenda, and given that there are no un-debated issues throughout the decades-long negotiations, the parties can reach an agreement within three or four months.

Recalling that the joint statement obliges parties for rapid talks, the U.N. also believes negotiations should not last for years. However, it’s going to be the performance of the two parties that will determine how rapid talks will be.

This sense of urgency introduced by Turkey has a direct link with its ambition to give momentum to its nearly de facto suspended negotiations with the EU for full membership. Resolving the Cyprus problem would help Turkey to open at least 10 chapters, but in general give a huge boost to the accession process. This surely will have an impact on the domestic political arena, especially on the eve of critical elections.

However, this urgency could also cause the Turkish party to give unnecessary concessions to the Greek Cypriots on a number of very vital issues.

The U.N. delegation’s visit to Turkey coincides with the ongoing Geneva II talks, deemed to be the only platform for finding a political solution to the turmoil in Syria. With the bloodshed continuing in a more violent way and with nearly 10 million of Syrians seriously affected by the civil war, Turkish and U.N. officials discussed the problem and made an overview on the ongoing talks in Switzerland.

For the moment, the U.N. is exerting great efforts to find convergences between the rival groups inside Syria, as well as between regional countries like Turkey and Iran and on the international level, between the United States and Russia. To this end, rapprochement between Turkey and Iran and recent reciprocal meetings have been regarded as important developments for the U.N. as well.

In the eyes of the U.N., Turkey played a significant role in the Geneva I conference and still has a huge influence on the Syrian opposition, especially in convincing them to join the Geneva II conference.

However, there were doubts about its willingness to accept a transitional period without seeing a full collapse of the Bashar al-Assad regime. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s statement on Feb. 14 about some countries’ efforts to turn the Geneva II conference into a platform to change the regime instead of reaching a political solution is addressed mainly to Turkey.

However, it’s recently been observed that the government is softening its approach towards the conference results and made clear to the U.N. that it will continue to work for a political solution. From “political solution,” Turkey understands a Syria without al-Assad, although most of the international community underlines that the leadership of the new Syria will be decided by the Syrian people.