When there are problems in the conduct of or if first-track diplomacy is in a deadlock, it might be wise to go to the second track. Through second-track diplomacy the climate of talks might be improved, societies might be prepared for compromise and first track diplomacy might obtain a chance of progress, which might not be at all possible in the absence of those “non-official” exchanges.
Particularly in situations like Cyprus, where progress might be marred with psychological factors, including but not limited to a deep distrust and lack of confidence, second-track diplomacy can be very helpful, provided they are not shrouded in secrecy and such contacts themselves become a source of friction.
Throughout all of the past five decades when Turkish and Greek Cypriot negotiators tried to resolve the problem of power sharing between the people on the island in futile rounds of talks, at the same time social contacts of all sorts continued. Even at times when the two peoples were physically separated and almost no access to the other side was possible, the two peoples continued meeting at the Ledra Palace Hotel or such “U.N. premises” or German, British or American “social facilities” in the Nicosia buffer zone.
In most cases it was the leftists of the two sides who were involved in second-track diplomatic activities, angering their respective authorities. Still, to the improvement of climate and eventual April 23, 2003 opening of the crossing points between the two zones on the island was at some degree a product of the climate provided by those contacts.
Nowadays something rather odd is happening in Cyprus. On the one hand there are contacts between the representatives of the two leaders to prepare the framework of the new round of the soon to be launched talks, while on the other hand with the same Greek Cypriot interlocutor some “secret talks” were being conducted by the Turkish Cypriot foreign minister. Of course should the minister meet in his official capacity with the Greek Cypriot negotiator that would be a big bang; it would mean Greek Cypriots de facto recognized the Turkish Cypriot state. If the minister is meeting in his private capacity, than how can he conduct second-track diplomacy undermining his official position?
Joke apart; there can of course no harm in talking. On the contrary not talking might be a real problem. But can it be considered normal for a foreign minister to conduct “secret” or “discreet” talks, alternative to the talks conducted by the representative of his president?
Foreign Minister Özdil Nami explained to me on the phone that his contacts were “private” in nature and did not go further than “social contacts.” Then why has his Prime Minister Özkan Yorgancıoğlu appeared on BRT, a state TV channel, and proudly commented that such talks were useful for rapprochement? Three meetings in ten days, however, cannot just be “social contact.” All these reminded me of the “Varosha initiative” from the former President Mehmet Ali Talat, without any prior consultation with the Turkish Cypriot or Turkish governments. That drastic fait accompli initiative failed, thank God, with Greek Cypriots rejecting it. Yet the still-born Varosha precondition of Nikos Anastasiades was most probably encouraged with Talat’s failed fait-accompli.
Private, good relations from Nami with U.N. envoy Alexander Downer or with some Greek Cypriot executives, of course might be helpful. Downer might cunningly want to exploit the Nami channel to bypass the deadlock in official talks. But, can it be possible to achieve anything with such backstage tactics?