IN THE END, the talks in Mont Pelerin were not make-or-break, as we had claimed last Sunday. In a week’s time the two leaders will meet in Geneva and have another shot at agreeing the criteria on territory, transferring them to a map and setting a date for the multi-party conference that would be the final stage of the procedure.
The question everyone is asking is whether there is any point in returning to Switzerland next Sunday. Was the decision to continue the talks in Geneva just a temporary, face-saving exercise, delaying the inevitable collapse by a few days, or are the two sides close to an agreement that just needs to be finalised?
The comments by the respective spokesmen of the two leaders, made after Friday night’s marathon session, suggested that adequate progress had been made and that the only reason they agreed to a week’s break was to satisfy President Anastasiades’ request for time to confer with the party leaders in Cyprus, as he had promised them, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Mustafa Akinci’s spokesman, Baris Burcu said about the request for a break: “This request did not make us very happy, but surely if we are going to proceed to a partnership in the future and we create it with political will, we would not want to disappoint our fellow-negotiator Mr Anastasiades. We thought that this would make him feel more comfortable.”
Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said Anastasiades asked for the break “in order to brief the political leadership, but also because there was no result tonight”, reminding journalists that both leaders were scheduled to leave on Saturday. He was not asked what effect Friday afternoon’s calls by the party leaders for a National Council meeting before anything was agreed had on the president.
Perhaps inadequate time had been given to the leaders to bash out the criteria for territory. Monday was spent with the UN secretary-general, on Tuesday and Wednesday they discussed the chapters on which there had been some convergences and this left just two days for the criteria on territory.
It is entirely possible the criteria could have been agreed in these two days, but this would have meant the two sides would have then had to agree a date for the multi-party conference, something Anastasiades was reluctant to do because of the backlash he would have faced at home. Although, before going to Switzerland, there was an understanding (documented in a proposal drafted by Espen Barth Eide) that once the territory criteria were finalised the date would be set, Anastasiades changed his mind once there, demanding that the territorial adjustments also had to be charted on a map before the date was agreed.
This was because he had assured the party leaders that he would not return from Mont Pelerin without a map showing the territorial re-adjustments. He might not have brought a map back on Saturday, but neither did he commit to the multi-party conference that would have been a red rag to the parties. But it seems very likely he will bring back a map from Geneva as the Turkish Cypriot side, according to Burcu, was committed to drafting one, once the criteria and the date was set.
One of the arguments used by the hard-liners was that in all the years of Cyprus talks, the Turkish side had never submitted a map showing what territory it was prepared to return, focusing always on governance and power-sharing on which the Greek Cypriot side was making all the concessions. Hopefully, after Geneva, they will have the map they have been demanding, even though we doubt it would make them more positively disposed towards a settlement.
Anastasiades is deluding himself if he believes that by moving gradually towards the final stage of the procedure, he will gain the support, or at least neutralise the opposition to a settlement of the Diko, Edek, Alliance and the rest of the rejectionists. The break he requested, we suspect, was primarily aimed at managing the situation at home keeping the inevitable, angry reactions by the rejectionist parties in check and also allowing him to claim that he had consulted the National Council before finalising the criteria, producing a map and agreeing to a multi-party conference.
But he may be overestimating his powers if he thinks that with these tactical manoeuvres he could bring the hard-liners on side. This will never happen, because Papadopoulos, Sizopoulos, Lillikas, Perdikis and Theocharous prefer partition to the settlement on offer, which is why the president should start preparing for battle, if he is committed to finalising everything in Geneva.
The time of managing the home front by walking a tightrope and pandering to the rejectionists, is over, as he will find out when he briefs the National Council.