Fine-tuning in Cyprus

Fine-tuning in Cyprus

New Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Özdil Nami is in town. Until Thursday afternoon, he will be meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu, and key Cyprus civil servants at the Foreign Ministry to fine-tune the Cyprus policy of the new coalition government of northern Cyprus in line with Ankara. The first meeting between Davutoğlu and Nami was in Istanbul just a few days after he was appointed. That was a “get to know each other” working visit, but this is a full-fledged working visit ahead of the anticipated new Cyprus negotiations process.

When will the new round of talks start? It was hoped – and the United Nations, as well as the Americans and the British worked very hard behind the scenes to this end – that it would kick off in New York on the sidelines of the General Assembly meeting, with a negotiation session or at least a “social dinner” featuring Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades objected on the grounds that he was in New York as “president” of the “Republic of Cyprus” and could not agree on the elevation of the Turkish Cypriot leader – whose state is not recognized by any state but Turkey – to his level. That has been the obsession of consecutive Greek Cypriot leaders all along.

After that effort failed, U.N. officials hoped to fix a starting date before Eid al-Adha in northern Cyprus. That failed as well as representatives of the two leaders have failed so far in outlining either a basis for the talks or a joint text to be read out to the media after the first meeting. It’s like a tragicomedy! 
Anastasiades has been demanding that whatever was discussed or achieved at the talks since 2008 be scrapped and that the U.N.-prepared “Convergences – 2008-2012” document be removed from the table preparatory to the initiation of a new process based on “U.N. resolutions.” He has naturally been against a timetable and the “closure date” and “punitive clause” that the Turkish Cypriot side has been demanding.

The translation of the Greek Cypriot position into everyday language is quite simple: “We are not interested in a settlement, but we will try to make it look like we are talking.” However, even in accepting the Greek proposal of the reciprocal reception of representatives of the two communities, Ankara and the Turkish Cypriot side have been acting with the idea of reaching a settlement by the end of the year, or at the latest by March 2014. Still, international mediators, including the U.N. envoys, are demanding Turkish Cypriots and Turkey take some unilateral goodwill moves – like giving back the deserted Varosha (Maraş) suburb of Famagusta to Greek Cypriots – to encourage Anastasiades to be more forthcoming. Naturally, such offers that entail land concessions before an overall settlement cannot be considered sane.

But if the Greek Cypriot side, apart from appointing a chief negotiator for the yet-to-start talks, has not even formed a negotiations team, why would the Turkish Cypriot side make territorial concessions? Would that not be like placing the horse before the cart? In the absence of an overall package deal, it would be suicidal for any negotiator to discuss territorial aspects, maps and such issues, as the retraction of that would be impossible.

Now there is a pro-settlement government in northern Cyprus. Nami was the chief negotiator of former President Mehmet Ali Talat. For a change, there is cohesion between the president and the government of northern Cyprus. Similarly, there appears to be a working cohesion between Ankara and northern Cyprus, particularly as regards the Cyprus process. 

There is urgency for a “quick fix,” but what’s missing from the talks? Greek Cypriots.