No quick fix to Cyprus talks

No quick fix to Cyprus talks

Expectations for a quick fix to the crisis in the Cyprus talks process appear to have come to a dead end. Turkey is reiterating that under no condition will it agree to abandon support for the equal partnership rights of the Turkish Cypriot people on - as well as off - the island, with the Greek Cypriots. Greek Cypriots are stressing that talks might become “feasible” only if Turkey removes its Barbaros seismological ship and the accompanying navy ships from the “Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was just the last and the highest Turkish official to reiterate that there will be no step back in Turkey’s position.

“Turkey will never steer clear of recent developments in Cyprus. Our seismological research vessel is now continuing its activities. We will continue to be there as long as the Greek Cypriot administration and Greece continue to ignore our warnings on the issue,” Erdoğan said, addressing the 60th anniversary reception of the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO).

Erdoğan’s participation at the TPAO reception was regardless a sufficient expression of support for the national company’s activities. His strong words, on the other hand, demonstrated the determination in Ankara not to waiver under duress – particularly amid pressure from the Americans and the British, who have been relentlessly working behind the scenes to get the talks back on track. Instead, Turkey has been following a policy of reasserting in every possible way the equal partnership rights of the Turkish Cypriot people on Cyprus.

But can anyone compromise while the strongest man in the country is so adamant? In the absence of President Nicos Anastasiades – who underwent a serious recent heart operation in New York and remains hospitalized – can the acting president return to talks? Even if acting President Ioannakis Omiriu wanted to prove his presidential skill in this transition period - which could be extended to weeks, if not months - before Turkey withdraws its ships, he cannot do so because of public pressure.

While on the one hand the Greek Cypriot administration has been trying to create the impression that it has somehow managed to enter proxy talks with Turkey, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras also gave his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoğlu a paper explaining the Greek Cypriot views on the EEZ crisis during a visit last week. Davutoğlu’s move to not categorically reject the Greek Cypriot position paper with the back of his hand but decision instead to pass it on to his advisors “to examine and see if we can do anything in any way” was, of course, a gesture to his host Samaras, not a concession to the cunning Greek Cypriot effort. The gesture, however, did not imply a change in the Turkish position that the counterpart of the Greek Cypriot administration is only the Turkish Cypriot administration, as Ankara might talk to them only if a multilateral conference is convened and both peoples are represented there on an equal footing.

Thus, with no change or even softening in the positions of the sides on the problem, the approaching Christmas expiration of the first phase of drilling by the Eni-Kogas consortium in the disputed area and the expiry of the Navtex issued by Turkey on Nov. 30 might not mean an end to the standoff.

Greek Cypriots must understand what the Americans, the British and many others wishing to see a settlement in Cyprus have finally started to acknowledge; namely, that a Cyprus settlement requires the recognition of the equal partnership rights of Turkish Cypriots on the land, in the air and on the sea, as well as in the sovereignty and administration of the island. Their recognition as the Cyprus government does not mean that Turkish Cypriots will surrender to their domination with a submissive understanding, forgetting that they are one of the two founding peoples of the Republic of Cyprus which was forcefully destroyed by Greek Cypriots by aspiring to join Greece. The more they continue to deploy the rhetoric that the Cypriot Republic will continue and the Turkish Cypriots will be thrown a few added minority rights, there will be no settlement. On the contrary, partition will be consolidated.

What will happen now? Will Anastasiades manage to come back healthy enough to continue his presidency, or will there be – as expected – an early presidential vote later this summer? Will incumbent Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu be re-elected in April, or will there be a change? Not only are prospects dimming for a quick fix in the talks, but there are abundant signs of further complications.