The fourth and final of the leaders’ scheduled meetings takes place today, with nobody able to say what happens next. Would deadlock be declared, would a date for an international conference on Cyprus be set or would a few more meetings of the leaders be scheduled?
The most likely scenario is the third as neither leader would want to shoulder the blame for quitting the talks while the UN would not want to wind up a process that has made spectacular progress and all that remained was “to complete the final mile.”
It was clear from comments by the UN spokesman, made to this paper, that UN Special Advisor Espen Barth Eide would not call an end to the talks even if no progress was made today. “We remain committed to supporting the leaders as long as they want us to,” said Aleem Siddique, also pointing out, “Mr Eide remains loyal to the fact that the process remains leader-led.”
The real pointer of the UN approach was Siddique’s comment that “the ball is in their (leaders) court.” In other words, the responsibility for keeping the process alive or ending it belonged to the two leaders. It was a smart move by Eide, and the correct one under the circumstances, as he put the pressure on Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci to move the process, which is in its final stages, forward.
The clear implication was that they would also be responsible if there was a deadlock. This also exposed the untruthfulness of the Anastasiades government’s claims that Eide wanted to introduce arbitration to the process. Not only would the UN steer clear of arbitration but it does not even seem prepared to take the lead in keeping the process moving. The role of the UN, according to Sidiqque, was to walk with the leaders “not ahead, nor behind them.”
When the leaders stop walking, presumably, so would the UN and that would be the end of the process, but neither seems prepared to do so yet. They will carry on walking, probably in different directions, but not for very long, as would have been Anastasiades’ preference, because exploratory drilling in the Cypriot EEZ is scheduled to start in July. Akinci is unlikely to stay at the negotiating table while this was going on and nobody knows how Turkey, which has been issuing threatening warnings, would react.
There are many unknowns but Akinci has made it clear he considers the end of June an informal deadline and the UN does not seem to disagree. Anastasiades, who has been playing up the differences at the talks in order to push his case for their indefinite continuation, has a few weeks to consider how to manage the situation because he appears to have made up his mind that he will not complete the final mile.