…and the show goes on in Cyprus

…and the show goes on in Cyprus

Mustafa Akıncı and Nikos Anastasiades, the leaders of the two communities of the divided Cyprus wined and dined at an occasion hosted by Espen Barth Eide, the special envoy of the UN secretary-general, and agreed to kick off the Cyprus talks wherever they were abandoned last October by the Greek Cypriot leadership.

“We came together with Anastasiades tonight. I believe it was a positive meeting and a good beginning,” tweeted Akıncı, the Turkish Cypriot leader, after the two-hour-long dinner at the Ledra Palace Hotel in the UN buffer zone in Nicosia. Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades was less committal, he tweeted “I hope that the conditions for a substantive dialogue will be created, which will lead to the reunification of our country.”

Thus, the talks are apparently back on track, depending of course what the two leaders agree on at their first meeting on May 15 that was qualified by Eide as an occasion for the two leaders to have a “general exchange of views” and discuss how the talks should proceed. Also present at the first “social encounter” of the two leaders were the negotiators Özdil Nami ve Andreas Mavroyannis of the two communities and Lisa Buttenheim, the UN representative on the island. Nami, meanwhile, stepped down from his foreign minister portfolio to save time for what appears to be an invigorated and fast track process for peace.

The Ledra Palace hotel in Nicosia’s buffer zone has been serving as the UN headquarters on the island ever since it was abandoned by Greek Cypriots during the 1974 Turkish intervention on the island following an abortive Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup to annex the island with Greece. All through the past decades, the hotel, the next door small restaurant or the nearby abandoned Nicosia international hospital premises have been hosting encounters of the representatives of the two sides in endless rounds of Cyprus peacemaking talks.

Will this new round of talks initiated at the dinner table Monday night succeed this time in bringing a resolution to the over half century old problem of power sharing between the two peoples of Cyprus? Both Akıncı and Anastasiades apparently of the opinion that leadership change in northern Turkish Cypriot territory has brought a new momentum and an opportunity for resolution. Has it indeed? That will be seen in the talks slated to resume Friday.

At the Friday meeting the two leaders will have to make a fast review of what was discussed in this last round of talks. Akıncı, who has been a pro-settlement politician committed to a compromise resolution, stressed at an Ankara visit recently that he wanted to reach a settlement and submit it to separate referenda of the two peoples of the island by the end of this year. Anastasiades, though he was a supporter of a 2004 UN-peace plan, has been suggesting however a resolution in which the Turkish Cypriot state would dissolve in the Cyprus Republic which itself would transform into a federal structure.

Furthermore, the Greek Cypriot side has been suggesting a scheme of “parallel talks” under which while the leaders and negotiators would continue exploring a comprehensive overall resolution to the Cyprus issue, a web of confidence measures will be discussed and implemented simultaneously. In that confidence building measures, obviously, the Greek Cypriot demand for the return of the deserted Varosha suburb of Famagusta figures very high, while at least so far opening of the Ercan airport or Famagusta port to international traffic – key demands of Turkish Cypriots – have been condemned as “non-starters.” Will this attitude change?
On the other hand, many Cyprus watchers fear that once confidence building process starts, particularly if talk on future of Varosha starts, the entire Cyprus process might fall hostage to it.

This way or the other, the Cyprus talks ship will soon set sail once again in hopes that it will not ground on some rocks and safely reach the port of a resolution this time. Will it? If Greek Cypriots change their mentality and accept the “political equality” of the Turkish Cypriots and the two “constituent states” of the future federation, why not? Will they? Most likely not.

Yet, at least we have the show back…