Cyprus talks in a sore spot

Cyprus talks in a sore spot

After so many rounds of talks and numerous declarations of great success or announcements of breakthroughs, the Cyprus talks train finally came to a very important station. Some claim this will be a make-or-break event, while some act with awareness of the history of the problem, which is now more than half a century old, and say Geneva is not the end of the road. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said it clearly, “Geneva might not be the end of the Cyprus talks.”

Years ago, when American trouble-shooter Richard Holbrooke, with the impertinence of his new-won title of “architect of the Bosnia peace,” asked late Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktaş with airs and graces about where he should sit on his first visit, he received an awesome response. “Your Excellency,” said Denktaş, “Would you like the seat on which U Thant sat? Or the seat once occupied by Kurt Waldheim? The one used by Hugo Gobi? Or shall we offer you a new chair?”

Indeed, how many United Nations secretary-generals have passed by since the time of U Thant? Obviously Antonio Guterres might be the last secretary-general dealing with the Cyprus problem. Very much like his predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, he might like to make it into history with a settlement on Cyprus. But in the interests of success, it might be wise to recollect why all past initiatives have failed. How did Albert Einstein describe insanity? Did not he say, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?”

As long as Greek Cypriots continue to be treated as the sole legitimate government of all of Cyprus, contrary to the 1960 agreements and the constitution of Cyprus, and the Turkish Cypriot people who were expelled with a violent campaign of annihilation by Greek Cypriots from the partnership government are considered a minority demanding some additional rights, there can be no Cyprus deal. The past 53 years of the Cyprus problem testifies to the validity of this assertion.

After the collapse of the previous Switzerland-based two “out of Cyprus” summit meetings, so many hours-long meetings between the two leaders and hundreds of hours-long meetings between teams from the two sides, resolution efforts will be given a new chance in Switzerland. From Jan. 9 to 11, the leaders and their teams will go through the remaining problem points and try to replace them with new sets of convergences.

 At the end of that exercise, the two sides will officially place their proposals on territory on the negotiation table. Once the maps are placed on the table, the exercise will be elevated from a bilateral to a five-party level with the inclusion of Turkey, Greece and Britain, the three guarantor powers of the 1960 agreements.

Are we near an agreement? Other than Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı, who keeps on stressing the need for everyone to be “settlement-oriented” or at least be “pro-settlement,” no one is hopeful. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided after days of senior-level discussions between Turkey and Greece not to attend the talks and instead sent his handpicked premier. Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades disclosed as he was leaving for Geneva that there were very serious differences. Greek Cypriot sources underline that there were very serious discrepancies in the approaches of the two sides on at least 103 subheadings in the six-chapter talks.

The Turkish side, however, has been suggesting that the process has come to the last stage, arguing that sufficient convergences had been achieved and that it is now time for a courageous and large give-and-take, otherwise this golden opportunity will slip away. But it is no secret that from the rotation of the presidency to how deadlocks in the high judiciary are resolved, there are very serious contradictions in the positions of the two sides. Why has Akıncı been making such odd statements then? Is he trying to avoid something he knows might happen if the talks fail? Indeed, there have been claims as well that Turkey has a Plan B… Will that be the annexation of the north as Turkey’s 82nd province? Or will it be the consolidation of the Turkish Cypriot state with Turkey finally lifting its reported “give support but don’t recognize the Turkish Cypriot state for now” advice to the Muslim community of nations?

On the eve of the start of the new Geneva round, however, there was discord even on the status of the international conference to convene on Jan. 12. Would it be a five-party event, as agreed, or would it include the EU and the permanent five of the Security Council as demanded by the Greek Cypriots? The composition of the international conference is of existential importance. Why would the EU and the permanent five be given an opportunity to shape future of Cyprus? Were Greek Cypriots making such demands to make Turkey accept some concessions under international duress? Why would Turkey, a country that constantly propagates that the world is bigger than the “permanent five,” now accept a role for the five privileged countries again?

In any case, if talks reach the international conference level, the future of the guarantee system and Turkey’s presence on Cyprus will come to the agenda. Is Turkey prepared to walk such a road while two other guarantors in various forms will continue to stay on the island?