It would not be the end of the line if President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci failed to seal the deal on a new Geneva conference on Wednesday in what is being seen by some as a make-or-break meeting, the UN said on Tuesday.
The speculation is that either the leaders will decide on Wednesday to go to a new international conference before the end of June to avert brewing tensions over Cyprus’ planned hydrocarbons drilling in July, or nothing will come of the meeting, throwing the future of the talks into doubt, the deep freeze, or all-out collapse.
A third scenario is that the process will go to the wire with the leaders possibly taking a step towards a Geneva meeting but stopping short of fixing a date for now. Akinci is pushing for a conference well before drilling begins, while Anastasiades says he is not opposed but needs more preparation.
The negotiators from both sides were meeting in an all-day session on Tuesday. On Monday, the government spokesman said no one should necessarily expect decisions on Wednesday, but rather ‘direction’ as to where to go from here.
Among the reports circulating is one suggesting that UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide has told the leaders either they agree to an international conference or the whole process will be deemed a failure.
But this was denied by Unficyp spokesman Aleem Siddique on Tuesday. “This is not true,” he told the Cyprus Mail. “Mr Eide remains loyal to the fact that the process remains leader-led.”
Siddique said the pace of the talks was determined by the leaders and the role of the UN was to walk with them “not ahead nor behind”.
“The ball is in their court,” he added. The Unficyp spokesman said the UN was hoping to see progress on Wednesday, and by that he meant the leaders reviewing the process and taking the next steps “to complete the final mile”.
“What those steps are will be for them to decide. We remain committed to supporting the leaders as long as they want us to,” Siddique said.
Informed sources told the Cyprus Mail that this was a sensitive moment in the negotiations with one side seeing Wednesday’s meeting as a sort of deadline while the other appeared to be focused on the presidential elections in 2018 and taking the attitude; “I will resurrect the talks after that”.
However, Turkey has elections in 2019, and the Turkish Cypriots in 2020, meaning hypothetically, the talks could be on hold for another three years. “Meanwhile Akinci is left twiddling his thumbs,” the sources said, adding that the state of the leaders’ relationship was clear to everyone through their body language when they meet. “All of this makes Akinci look weak. He is left dangling. But anyone can see that it is the Greek Cypriots who have always determined the pace of the talks,” the sources said.
“If they want talks, they get them. This is frustrating for Akinci”.
However, the sources said the loss of two months negotiating over the Enosis vote at the House in February was entirely down to the overreaction by the Turkish Cypriot leader even though he is the one touting a July deadline for a solution.
As quoted in Turkish Cypriot media on Tuesday, Akinci does not likely see himself sitting at the negotiating table while drilling is going on in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.
As for Anastasiades’ insistence that more preparation is needed before a new Geneva conference, the sources said that if the Greek Cypriot side was dragged to Switzerland kicking and screaming, it would turn out to be a disaster. “The broader picture is that there is little left that has not been agreed but there are some tiny fractional issues that could be used for foot-dragging,” the sources added.
“The general view is that they still have some time left. It’s not the end yet, but laying down ultimatums is not the best way to go.”
Despite this, the source said the prospect of drilling was a real worry as were recent tensions between Athens and Ankara. “This does not help matters”.
The Greek Cypriot side is due to be briefed by Greek Foreign Minister Nicos Kotzias on Thursday in Nicosia on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ contacts in China last weekend with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and UN chief Antonio Guterres.
Ruling Disy leader Averof Neophytou on Tuesday repeated the government’s line that if there was enough progress at the table, it should be possible to agree to a new Geneva conference. He said he pointed this out to Eide at a meeting on Monday.
Neophytou said the Cyprus issue has not been solved so far due to Turkey’s intransigence. “We believe that the only way to break the impasse is through dialogue,” he said.
In the north on Tuesday, Akinci briefed the Turkish Cypriot political parties ahead of the leaders’ meeting. ‘Prime Minister’ Huseyin Ozgurgun said the most important step now was to return to Geneva.
“Unfortunately, Mr Anastasiades is focusing on the elections and will be until next February,” he said.