Will the Cyprus plane land this time?
The Cyprus peace talks have been very much like a supersonic jetliner that, after some rather tiring preparation, kicked off rather easily. But over the past decades, since the talks were first launched in 1968 in Lebanon, that plane could not complete its trip and land in peace but was somehow forced at each effort to a crash landing.
In the late1970s, 80s and early 90s, Kenneth McKenzie, a colleague and friend missed so much, had become something like one of those monuments of Ankara. For many decades he wrote for The Economist. He was staying at what was then one of the most important meeting points for politicians, top bureaucrats and of course journalists, the Bulvar Palace Hotel across from the Interior Ministry. He spent so much on the Cyprus issue that eventually when he retired, he settled in southern Cyprus where he silently passed away a few years ago.
“Cyprus is very much like a plane, a plane that takes off perfectly and flies comfortably in all weather conditions but never completes its trip successfully. Somehow its captains always manage to crash it. What’s equally astonishing is that though it crashed so many times, many people spare no effort to get it back in the air again in hopes that it will eventually have a peaceful landing,” he so often commented.
McKenzie would be bursting into one of his “Mr. Know-It-All” laughs seeing again that though only few years ago the Greek Cypriot side in a referendum on a U.N.-finalized peace plan demonstrated their firm disinterest in a power-sharing deal with Turkish Cypriots, a euphoria is building up once again that a Cyprus deal might be “within reach” or even might have become discernible.
After two days of “positive, productive and vigorous” U.N. summitry at the Greentree Estate of Long Island, New York with Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Demetris Christofias, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, flanked by the two leaders, appeared in front of cameras to herald that he expected a deal in January to reunify the eastern Mediterranean island.
He said “both leaders have assured me that they believe they can finalize a deal” and he expected all “internal aspects” of the Cyprus problem to be resolved by the two leaders in talks back in Cyprus. After convergences were achieved on outstanding issues at the January summit, he expected to be able to call for a “multi-lateral conference” where security issues and guarantees will be handled. Most probably the territorial aspect of the problem will be resolved on the sidelines of such a conference to assist the two sides to sail through that extremely difficult area.
As the U.N. chief has put it, so far in the chapters regarding economy, EU issues and internal aspects of security – the size and duties of police forces in two constituent states as well as in the federal state – the two sides have developed full understanding, while “there is still work to be done” on governance, property, territory and citizenship headings, Ki-moon said.
The task of two leaders from now until the January summit will be to narrow differences or develop more convergences in these outstanding four chapters. Will the two leaders be able to develop those convergences required for a successful January summit?
If the U.N. secretary-general and his staff on Cyprus “facilitating” the “direct talks” between the two leaders in this “by Cypriots for Cypriots” peace talks continue prodding the two leaders, particularly Christofias, who has been waging an uphill fight of political survival, perhaps the Cyprus talks plane will come for the first time ever so close to a safe and planned landing in January in a landmark federal settlement.
But the political climate in southern Cyprus, financial crisis in Greece and growing overconfidence in Ankara may still complicate prospects of a settlement despite the fact that there has never been so much intense optimism for a safe landing of the Cyprus plane.