Cyprus talks at critical junction

Cyprus talks at critical junction

Some people are skeptical. Some are hopeful for a resolution. The Turkish Cypriot leader has been constantly pumping optimism that a deal before the end of the year had become discernible. The Greek Cypriot leader has been expressing cautious optimism and stressing that much work needed to be done before he could say a deal was now within reach. Nationalist segments in Turkish Cyprus have been sounding alarm bells that the Turkish Cypriot leader was “begging for any settlement.” As there is a Greek Cypriot nationalist in the president’s seat in the south and the leftists have declared an elusive support for the talks process, the insignificant far-right and far-left parties and the strong Church of Cyprus constitute the backbone of the “Oxi” (No) front.

Only a few months are left to the end of the year. After a short summer recess, leaders will take part in a new round of talks to iron out the differences on outstanding issues and try to increase convergences before asking Turkey, Britain and Greece to join in for an international conference. That conference, if it can ever convene, was expected to solve the guarantees issue and put a final full stop to the Cyprus quagmire which has continued since the Greek Cypriot attacks on Turkish Cypriots in December 1963.

During the planned seven sessions of talks in between Aug. 23 and Sept. 14, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı and his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Nikos Anastasiades, are slated to focus particularly on the two toughest nuts of the Cyprus problem, the property and the territorial aspects. Naturally, all other unclosed chapters, including governance, where the two sides don’t have any convergence, particularly on the rotation of the presidency and such “political equality” related matters, will as well be taken up again during those seven rounds of talks.

The five-party international conference was not fixed yet. The call to convene such a conference will be made pending the success of the talks between the two leaders. If there was not sufficient convergence on a bilateral level, why would a five-party conference convene? For a funeral service to the Cyprus talks exercise?
So far, the Turkish Cypriot president and his office have been in a lull on the talks process. Excluding reiterating at every occasion how hopeful he was that by the year’s end a deal would be achieved, Akıncı has been even avoiding answering Greek Cypriot provocations, such as inviting a third round of gas exploration tenders in the disputed “exclusive” economic zone off the island. Did not the two sides agree to a moratorium on oil and gas exploration and such provocative actions? Anastasiades has been stressing that he could not discuss the sovereignty of the Cyprus republic at the talks. Well what is the subject of the talks? Are not they aimed at finding a power sharing deal between the “two people sharing the same homeland of Cyprus?”

Despite all provocative actions of the Greek Cypriot side, Akıncı has been maintaining a talks-focused approach. That attitude of Akıncı, considered by many of being “over defeatist” and “concessionary bordering on surrender,” was accused last week by Prime Minister Hüseyin Özgürgün as “begging for any deal at any cost in a downtrodden process.” Naturally, Akıncı’s answer was not anywhere like his tolerant attitude towards Greek Cypriot provocations. A very angry Akıncı, in a written statement, replied to Özgürgün that he was not begging for any deal but conducting negotiations with a pro-settlement resolve in a manner befitting the expectations of the Turkish Cypriot people. He, furthermore, accused the prime minister of having an insolent attitude towards the highest position of the state he was expected to serve with dignity.

As inappropriate as Özgürgün’s accusation might be perceived, in view of the close relations between the Turkish Cypriot president and the Turkish president and government – and as the rift between Akıncı and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was publicly exposed with the Turkish Cypriot leader not attending the “National Unity and Democracy Rally” held in Istanbul last week – it might be said that Ankara was a little bit irritated with Akıncı’s “defeatist” style at the talks.

The agenda of the three meetings of Akıncı and Anastasiades in August was laid down already by the chief negotiators of the two sides. The chief negotiators will start meeting on Sept. 1 to lay the agenda of the four rounds of talks in September. The last meeting of the two leaders is slated to be held on Sept. 14. Then the two leaders will travel to New York. While Anastasiades will be there to represent Greek Cyprus, Akıncı will be there for bilateral contacts. On the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session, if the “protocol obsession” of Anastasiades could be resolved, the U.N. secretary-general and the two leaders might engage in a trilateral meeting. Otherwise the U.N. chief might have a series of proximity talks between the two, and decide on the fate of the process – to carry it to an international conference or call it at an end.

The chances? Akıncı provided a rare answer last week. He said the Greek Cypriot side has not yet decided on the need to walk a conciliatory road. Was that a pessimist comment? Well, even Akıncı has a limit. Most likely, in recent talks Anastasiades tested once again the limits of Akıncı’s pro-settlement resolve.