By Jean Christou
SUBSTANTIVE discussions have begun on the Cyprus issue, the UN said on Monday following the latest meeting between chief negotiators Andreas Mavroyiannis for the Greek Cypriot side, and Kudret Ozersay for the Turkish Cypriot side.
“They completed their exchange of views on process and started substantive discussions on issues connected to different chapters,” a brief statement from the UN said following the meeting at the Good Offices Mission at the old Nicosia Airport.
The two negotiators will meet again on March 4. Mavroyiannis is slated to travel to Ankara, and Osersay to Athens on Thursday for high-level meetings with the Turkish and Greek leadership respectively, a component that has never been part of Cyprus talks in the past. This round of talks between President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu began on February 11 on the basis of a joint declaration that sets out the parameters of the talks.
The legal team supporting Mavroyiannis has started to dig in for the substantive discussions. Recently recruited were heavyweight lawyers Polys Polyviou and former attorney-general Alecos Markides.
A number of working groups has been also set up on governance and power sharing, EU matters, security and guarantees, territory, property, economic matters and citizenship but these have not been activated, according to the Cyprus News Agency.
Despite having pledged as part of the joint declaration not to engage in negative rhetoric, Eroglu in particular has been needling with various comments about the negotiations and Varosha, and the declaration itself has split the Cyprus government coalition with DIKO on the brink of withdrawing.
Eroglu has come under fire in the north for his comments about allowing Turkish settlers to remain, and pointedly talking about two sovereignties.
Izzet Izcan, chairman of the United Cyprus Party (BK)), said Eroglu was harming the process by making statements contrary to the joint declaration.
“Eroglu deceives both himself and the community by saying that the guarantees will continue, two separate sovereignties will exist and not a single soldier and Turkish settler will go away,” Izcan said.
On Varosha, Eroglu has been insisting that the fenced-off ghost town would form part of the negotiations while the Greek Cypriot side has been plugging the idea as part of a parallel move towards confidence building measures to help the talks move forward.
On Monday EU Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fule, in a letter to DIKO MEP Antigone Papadopoulos said the return of Varosha would be one of the key elements of the negotiations for a comprehensive settlement.
“A comprehensive settlement agreed between the leaders of the two communities constitutes the quickest and most direct way to solving the problems related to the Cyprus issue, including on the return of Varosha to its lawful owners,” said Fule.
Meawhile on the gas issue, President Nicos Anastasiades was quoted on Sunday in the weekly paper Kathimerini as saying that if Turkey continued to violate the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), he would withdraw from the Cyprus negotiations. “We have made it clear that if violations continue, our response will be to leave the talks,” he said.
“Hydrocarbons are a decisive factor. Turkey has needs, Israel has needs and Cyprus has needs. By solving the Cyprus issue we open up wide horizons.”
On Monday Anastasiades met Russian ambassador to Cyprus Stanislav Osadchiy, who offered Russia’s support for the talks. The two also discussed Anastasiades forthcoming visit to Moscow, the date for which has not yet been fixed.