Neither the two leaders nor the UN wants arbitration as a means to moving the talks forward, UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide said on Monday, the eve of the resumption of talks which had been stalled for the past eight weeks.
Arbitration fears were sparked at the weekend when Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci called for more shuttle diplomacy between the two sides and the guarantor powers, but also said he would be open to oral bridging ideas from the UN.
Speaking after his meeting with Akinci on Monday, Eide said he remained convinced that a solution could be found and this would become clear in the coming days. The aim for Tuesday was to get off to the “most optimal re-start possible”, he said.
The UN envoy spoke by phone to President Nicos Anastasiades in Madrid immediately after the meeting with Akinci so that he could hear both the leaders’ expectations for Tuesday.
He wanted to see how they could structure the coming weeks “so we really focus on what is most important” and find a way that both leaders were comfortable with. He emphasised that he was talking “weeks” at this point, and not months.
He added that he and his team would do everything possible to help but stressed that his mandate had not changed and the process was still leader-led.
“I frequently read that I want to arbitrate but I definitely do not want arbitration. The leaders do not want arbitration. The secretary-general of the UN does not want arbitration but the manner in which I can be helpful is something that I will ask them,” he said.
Eide said the two sides had lost a lot of time and a lot of trust over the parliament’s Enosis vote, which prompted Akinci to walk away until “the mistake was fixed”, and while Eide believes the leaders can rebuild their relationship, people in the two communities had begun to express their concerns over the credibility of the process, he said.
“I think it is up to the leaders to invest again in building that intercommunal trust that is necessary… but at the end of the day, the two communities have to want to reunite and have to want to live together and this is the responsibility of the leaders first and foremost, but also for other actors in society,” said Eide.
He said the leaders were motivated for a return to the talks “but that does not guarantee an effective outcome”. Given what has been accomplished so far, it was time to start wrapping up and investing in seeing how the outstanding issues could be bridged. It was not only a matter of opportunity but of will, Eide said.
Akinci on Sunday called for UN shuttle diplomacy between the two sides and the guarantor powers and said no one should expect unilateral steps from the Turkish Cypriot side. “This path will only lead us to a solution if we walk together,” he said. He also said he was open to oral ideas and proposals from the UN that could help bridge the gaps.
“The Turkish Cypriot side will behave reasonably and realistically. Zero troops and zero guarantees are not realistic nor reasonable proposals,” he added, referring to the Greek Cypriot side’s demands on these issues.
“The future cannot be built with past approaches such as Enosis (union with Greece), partition and annexation, nor with talk about minority and majority perceptions.”
He also referred again to drilling for natural gas on the Greek Cypriot side, saying if this starts without a solution “new tensions, new confrontations may come up in an area where we could cooperate”.
Rejectionist parties on Monday, still stung by parliament’s Enosis vote last Friday, took pot shots at Anastasiades on the eve of the talks, saying effectively now that Akinci got his way on that, he would want even more concessions at the table.
Also they said Akinci’s talk of the UN offering oral ideas was a smokescreen for arbitration, which was partly why the Annan plan failed in 2004 and the reason why the current process is meant to be Cypriot-led with the UN as a mere facilitator.
Diko said the talks were resuming with no one knowing about the process or content while Solidarity’s Eleni Theocharous said Anastasiades had “lit the green light” for UN arbitration “which has been christened as oral bridging proposals and mediation”, she said.
Edek took a similar vein, saying it was not the UN’s responsibility to give bridging proposals. The Greens said Akinci was returning to the talks having achieved his goals which would now make negotiations more challenging.
Akel and Disy both expressed their support but Disy leader Averof Neophytou said that “after artificial crisis caused by the Turkish Cypriot leader, now is the moment of truth at the table”.
“We hope that the other side will give up unrealistic goals or unreasonable demands,” he said.
Eide was having contacts with all of the political parties this week.