The UN secretary-general, concerned by the state of the peace talks, has put forward “some ideas” which his Cyprus envoy, Espen Barth Eide, will put to the two leaders after he returns to Cyprus on Monday.
Eide, who briefed the UN chief, Antonio Guterres, in New York on Friday said they had a “thorough, strategic discussion” on the “way ahead”.
“The special adviser’s first task upon his return to the island next week [on Monday] will be to meet and brief the leaders on the meeting,” UN spokesman Aleem Siddique told the Sunday Mail on Saturday.
No details have been released of what Guturres’ ideas contain, but for him to suggest ways of breaking the deadlock reflects how seriously the international community is taking the possibility of the talks collapsing.
For two years the UN has stressed it is acting solely as a facilitator in a process that is “Cypriot-led”.
The Greek Cypriots vehemently oppose any suggestion of UN arbitration, although the Turkish Cypriots say some involvement by the international body is now needed to save the talks, which are at a critical juncture.
Without waiting for any elaboration on what Guterres’ ideas might entail, hardline Greek Cypriot parties on Saturday again accused Eide of serving Turkish interests and repeated calls for his dismissal.
Remarks by Eide in recent days give the strong impression that while the UN is still hoping for the best, it is also preparing the worst.
Tensions are escalating amid Turkish threats to scupper Greek Cypriot plans to resume drilling for natural gas in June.
Commenting on Eide’s choice to brief Guterres before the two leaders have even concluded their present round of meetings on May 17 Siddique said it was indicative of his eagerness to act “sooner, rather than later”.
“And it is, of course, a reflection of how critical and crucial the coming weeks are,” he said.
In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency before his meeting with Guterres on Friday, Eide said if the leaders failed to reach a deal in the near future, “other options might have to be tabled”.
He voiced concern that if tension were allowed to escalate over drilling scheduled for June in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), it could be “potentially more dramatic than 2014”, when Turkey despatched the Barbaros, a survey ship, and Anastasiades walked out of the peace talks in protest.
With the talks stalling after nearly breaking down completely following the crisis induced by the enosis vote in the House of Representatives, the Turkish Cypriot side is pushing for a more active role for Eide.
In a speech at a forum organised by the Bahcesehir University in Istanbul on Saturday, Akinci touched on this.
“Although arbitration isn’t recommended, the UN could develop its bridging role between the two sides,” he said.
UN arbitration has been anathema to the Greek Cypriot side since 2004, when then secretary-general Kofi Annan filled in the points of disagreement between the two sides to produce the fifth and final version of the Annan plan – subsequently accepted by Turkish Cypriots but rejected by more than three-quarters of Greek Cypriots.
In a series of harsh statements, opposition parties reacted to Eide’s latest effort at pushing the talks forward.
“These remarks contain the serious risk of forcing the Greek Cypriot side to reject United Nations’ ideas and being assigned blame for non-progress or a breakdown,” Diko said on Saturday.
“Diko announces that we will not be bound by anything we assess as new concessions that will lead to the abolition of the Republic of Cyprus.”
In a statement, Edek once more called for Eide’s removal from his role as UN special adviser for Cyprus.
“The secretary general’s representative is once more attempting to intervene in matters of procedure, in a manner that is provocative and unacceptable,” the party said.
“When will the president request his removal?”
While hopes of a Cyprus settlement were high, the UN was mulling plans to beef up its peacekeeping force, Unficyp, to help oversee territorial adjustments.
But in recent weeks the UN has instead been focusing on what will happen to Unficyp if the talks collapse in acrimony.
A report in the Sunday Mail last week suggested that there is a “good chance” the Good Offices Cyprus mission may be closed down, barring a breakthrough in the talks by July, while Unficyp is part of an ongoing broader debate on the operation of UN peace missions across the world.
The Cyprus mission, UN sources suggested, falls under the criteria set in deciding the future of UN presence around the world, suggesting that, if the ongoing talks were to fail, not only UN efforts to facilitate a solution, but Unficyp, too, might soon be a thing of the past – or, at least, scaled down to irrelevance.
Sources on Saturday pointed to Eide’s use of language after the Guterres meeting as being indicative of where the talks are heading.
“The use of the word ‘strategic’ to describe his talk with Guterres suggests looking at long-term options – the role and presence of [UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus] Unficyp, for example, or even continuing the Good Offices mission in Cyprus or not,” a source said on condition of anonymity.
“You know, closing down the mission would be as simple as not appointing a new special adviser, and the decision is solely up to the secretary-general.”
Hardline parties see the reports as an attempt to press the Republic into accepting an unfair and unworkable solution. However, it seems the pressure is mainly coming from the Trump administration which is cutting US funding to the UN.