Why the choice for negotiator in Cyprus was a right one

Why the choice for negotiator in Cyprus was a right one

Some people are unhappy with the “negotiator” pick of new Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı. The president is a social democrat and from the Communal Democracy Party (TDP), while the negotiator is a socialist and from the Republican Turks’ Party (CTP), leading some to say that the new president has established a coalition at the presidency from day one.

It was no secret during the second round of voting in northern Cyprus that while Akıncı had become the “joint candidate” of the entire Turkish Cypriot left and those conservatives unhappy with the performance of ousted President Dr. Derviş Eroğlu, as well as the two center-right parties that were supporting Eroğlu. As such, having a coalition in the presidential office would not be a surprise anyhow.

However, Akıncı was clear in asserting that he did not negotiate with anyone in offering the prestigious yet cumbersome job… Yes, cumbersome! Negotiations between the two peoples of the island have been continuing since 1968 and despite all the talk of a probable quick fix this year or, at the latest, within two years, the prospects are not that bright. To start with, leaving aside the thorny property issue or the territorial aspects of the problem, the two sides are far apart on the fundamental issues such as power sharing, partnership in sovereignty and indeed what a federation actually means.

Despite the complaints and incomprehensible objections emanating from publications trying to be “more royalist than the royal,” the appointment of Özdil Nami was a soothing factor for people like this writer who were worried that with a new president who had been distant from active politics for more than a decade and a novice negotiating team, some nasty mistakes could be made that could have derailed the entire resolution process altogether.

Now, despite all the political differences and the probable, not-so-welcome luggage he might revive from the previous Mehmet Ali Talat presidential term, Nami’s appointment as a negotiator is a soothing factor. What might be that luggage? Cross voting, single state-single nationality concessions or giving up the principle of a rotating presidency. Anyhow Greek Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades has been quite firm on the single state-single nationality demands and has been categorically against the rotation of the presidency.

The proposal to open Varosha, a deserted suburb of Famagusta, to Greek Cypriot settlement under an interim arrangement in exchange for the opening of the Famagusta Port and the Ercan airport to international traffic for the joint use of the two sides of the island has been on and off the negotiations table for many years. The issue is back on the table now despite all worries that such a debate might relegate the entire Cyprus talks process to a discussion about the fate of Varosha and the terms of opening Ercan to international aviation.

This as well as many other intriguing ideas, which might contribute to confidence building on the island but also might pose existential risks to the process, requires the establishment of a firm negotiating team. In the absence of a “national consensus” in the north regarding what the terms of a settlement ought to be, having a skilled negotiator was all the more important.

Now, during a one-day “official visit” to Ankara, Akıncı will try to patch up his strained relations with Turkey’s absolute ruler, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and concentrate on what Nami said on the phone – “an accelerated process which hopefully will carry us to a resolution on Cyprus by the end of 2015.”

As talks are slated to start later this month, will it be possible to have a deal in the remaining seven months of 2015? If there is a will on both sides, why not? The Cyprus problem has been an issue, every aspect of which, was discussed so many times over the past half-century. No rock was left unturned. If and only if the two sides really wanted, if and only if the Greek Cypriots have abandoned the obsession that they are the owners and Turkish Cypriots are the “500-year guests on Cyprus,” a settlement is long overdue…

As has been the case for the past many decades, the Turkish side is ready once again for substantive talks and a bitter compromise deal.