April hopes for a Cyprus deal

April hopes for a Cyprus deal

Efforts are underway to fix a second international meeting on Cyprus, sometime between March 5 and 10. Like the first inconclusive meeting, the two communal leaders of Cyprus and the foreign ministers of the three guarantor powers, Turkey, Greece and Britain, are expected to sit around the table, with the European Union representative sitting behind as an observer.

Apart from this writer and a few other realists who were aware of the huge gap in between the positions of the two sides, hopes were high when the first international conference convened in January that there might be a landmark Cyprus deal. Alas, all such hopes gave way to very strong disappointment when it became apparent that there was, indeed, no breakthrough. How could there be, when Greek Cypriots and Greece still shared the very same “our way or the highway” position, Turkey remained as solid as a rock in defense of its and Turkish Cypriot rights on Cyprus, and the Turkish Cypriot delegation led by President Mustafa Akıncı was engaged in efforts to show empathy for Greek Cypriots, abandoning the Turkish Cypriot position to such a degree that a Turkish minister who had access to the minutes of the meeting could not stop himself in commenting that he was confused as to whether Akıncı or Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades was speaking for the Greek Cypriots?

Now people with insight of what’s up in the Cyprus talks, which the Greek Cypriots have effectively turned into an open-ended exercise once again, say the March international meeting at a “political level” might be attended by the foreign ministers of Turkey, Greece and Britain. At that meeting, the five parties are expected to go through all six chapters of the Cyprus talks process from EU membership matters to the territorial aspect and the property as well as the security – thus the guarantee system – issues, but no tangible outcome should be expected apart from encouragement for the two communal leaders to continue last-ditch efforts. In the second half of April, immediately after the referendum in Turkey on a set of constitutional amendments aimed to satisfy President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s aspirations of becoming a super-president, a third and last Geneva international Cyprus meeting, this time at a summit level, will convene for a make-or-break occasion.

Expectations on the part of Greeks and Greek Cypriots, including the Britons and the Americans involved in the planning for the talks, are apparently based on the assumption that once the referendum process in Turkey is over, Erdoğan might be more forthcoming and generous on Cyprus, which might open the way for a grand deal and make the creation of a Greek-Turkish federation possible on Cyprus. Could it be? What Erdoğan does and even the question of whether he might attend a Cyprus meeting in Geneva will hinge on what the outcome of the referendum is. Will it be as Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım claim – a victory of more than 71 percent for the “yes” side, or will it be a major defeat for Erdoğan, as the latest opinion polls place the “no” votes higher than 58 percent?

Irrespective of whether there will be a landmark success or the usual failure in the Cyprus talks in April, however, the process will not come to an end automatically. In the event of a deal, the two sides and the three guarantor powers will have to first sign a framework agreement. Then, the framework agreement, with the inclusion of a new constitution and detailed work, will have to be completed on the accumulated judicial, legal, administrative and legislative works of the existing political reality of the island to be carried over to the new federal order. In the meantime, opponents of the deal will have to be convinced to support it as it will become a Cyprus settlement only after it is approved in simultaneous referenda by the two people of the island. Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly in favor of a U.N.-mediated federation deal in 2004, while three out of four Greek Cypriots rejected the plan in simultaneous referenda in 2004. However, the very fact that the Greek Cypriot side that rejected the deal was awarded EU membership in less than a week while Turkish Cypriots were left out in the cold is now haunting the prospects of a Turkish approval vote.

No one can vouch now that the Cyprus talks process might reach that point, but there are no guarantees either as to whether the two peoples will approve it in separate simultaneous referenda this time. Greek Cypriots still continue to oppose the condition of political equality, particularly the Turkish Cypriot demand for a rotating presidency, and insist in not understanding that the Turkish Cypriots’ obsession with Turkey’s continued guarantor status was because of the atrocities committed in 1963 and in between 1963 and 1974.

The Cyprus international conference will likely also become an open ended process if the two sides insist on trying not to be the side to declare the futility of continuing such an exercise that looks like nothing but an effort to bring the lost opportunity of living together back from the dead. 

There is a need for a brave declaration that the Cyprus talks have failed again, this time for the last time.