When will the Cyprus talks’ plane take off?
The Turkish government’s shifting Cyprus approach might be best summarized with the naïve phrase of “committed to settlement.” If Cyprus is a problem between the two peoples of the eastern Mediterranean island and, if together with Greece and Britain, Turkey is a “fiddler on the sideline” or a guarantor of fair play, what does it mean for Ankara to be committed to a Cyprus settlement?
That is a perfect question that might be asked by a foreigner to the Cyprus quagmire. Unlike Greece, which played its share badly between 1955 and 1974, Turkey is still a key player in whatever happens or does not happen in the Turkish Cypriot community and (since 1974) territory. Greek Cypriots have long become “independent” from Greece, though partly because of their evaporated money in Greek banks, are today struggling through the first post-republic economic/financial crisis. The bond between Turkey and Turkish Cypriots, however, has always been a very solid one. Even at times marked by painful Ankara-imposed austerity measures and economic restructuring programs, Turkish Cypriots continued to look at Turkey as the “respected motherland.”
Thus, Ankara’s commitment to a settlement means Turkish Cypriots are committed to a settlement. Furthermore, there has never been a government in Ankara that has so effectively used its persuasive capacity on Turkish Cypriots. An example? The 2004 referendum results, in which Turkish Cypriots showed they could even defy their monumental leader, Rauf Denktaş, and accept a peace plan he rejected because it was at Ankara’s behest… It appears so simple in a sentence, but that was a very painful road to walk and if Ankara had not so firmly supported the plan, it would not have happened.
Alexander Downer, the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy for Cyprus, was in Ankara on Monday. He met with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the top Cyprus team of the Foreign Ministry. Downer was clear in his messages: Give Greek Cypriots time until September or perhaps more. Prove you are “one step ahead” by offering some unilateral goodwill gestures that might help build confidence much needed for the talks. Naturally, while Greek Cypriots continue their inhumane economic, political and even social and sporting blockade of northern Cyprus, how could Turkey walk the extra mile and open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriots or agree to hand over Varosha under some provisional arrangements to Greek Cypriots?
Turkey and Turkish Cypriots are not just paying lip service to their “committed to a settlement” declaration but have been pressing hard for the resumption of talks and even the convening of an international conference to finish off the Cyprus problem with a big-bang agreement. As Davutoğlu recently put it perfectly, Greek Cypriots should make up their mind and say what they really want. Do they want a comprehensive federal resolution that would feature bitter, perhaps very bitter, mutual compromises? Are they interested in an interim arrangement which should include, of course, arrangements so that both could mutually benefit from natural resources on and offshore? If they say such resources in the southern areas and adjacent exclusive economic zone offshore belonged solely to them and that those in the north belonged to the Turks, then that means they support a two-state resolution.
Downer did not have answers. His mission was not to answer questions. He was preparing ground for the launch of talks one last time. When? Soon. Perhaps sooner.