THE announcement of the date of the Anastasiades-Akinci dinner gave rise to daily outpourings of speculative reports over what will be discussed, the alleged dangers of such a ‘social’ meeting and the divergent views of the two sides regarding a future peace process. Perhaps this fuss was an indication of how much the media and politicians had missed the Cyprus problem which has been in hibernation since last July when the talks collapsed in Crans-Montana.
Politicians still spoke about it and columnists wrote articles, but it was all vaguely nebulous with nothing tangible to fuel the usual debate. The UN had given up, allowing the two leaders plenty of time for the reflection the Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres prescribed after the collapse, and confining itself to drafting reports about why the process failed. When Gutteres drew the curtain on the process he said the UN would undertake a new peace drive only when the two leaders were ready to try again and asked for its help.
In those nine months neither was ready. Both engaged in the time-tested public rhetoric, expressing their desire for a settlement but doing nothing, apart from setting conditions to make resuming the peace talks impossible. Anastasiades was busy with his election campaign, happy to pose as a hardliner in the pursuit of the rejectionist vote, while Akinci had parliamentary elections to deal with and hardened his stance in order to be in line with the prevailing climate in the north and the tougher position adopted by Turkey’s government.
Events that took place in the Cypriot EEZ in February, when Turkish warships stopped the ENI drilling ship from reaching its drilling target and forced it to leave the area, allowed each side to dig in its heels deeper and take positions that made a resumption of the process very remote. Akinci wants the two sides to discuss an interim agreement for the exploitation of hydrocarbons, parallel to any peace talks, but Anastasiades will not hear of it, insisting that joint exploitation can only take place once there is an overall settlement which envisaged that energy was the responsibility of the federal government.
There is also a major disagreement on the nature of the process with the Greek Cypriot side arguing talks should start from where they left off, with negotiations on internal matters resuming and parallel preparations for an international conference, but without strict timeframes. Akinci flatly rejects this formula, which he claims was finished and belonged to the past. It is difficult to disagree with his assertion that the old framework had been going for 50 years without producing results and that an open-ended procedure would lead nowhere.
His case is fully supported by the facts and by Anastasiades’ general position that he wants a resumption of the talks and an international conference at some unspecified time in the future, five, 10 or 20 years. Talks for the sake of talks with no end date has always been the ideal option of the Greek Cypriot politicians, including the hardliners, as it allowed them to pretend they were making an effort to solve the problem, without having to take the difficult decisions needed for a compromise because of Turkish intransigence that is set in stone.
As we have argued in the past, this is the pursuit of partition by stealth, a way for our politicians to achieve their objective, without taking direct responsibility for it because they do not want to be blamed for permanently surrendering the north to Turkey. Akinci, in supporting a timeframe, said that if there was no settlement in the next two or three years, partition would become permanent. After 44 years, it seems pretty permanent already, and the only question is whether it will be formalised by an agreement between the two sides or by settlement talks that never end.
Although the latter option is preferred by the Greek Cypriot side it could pose major difficulties with its energy plans. Will Turkey allow any future drilling in the Cypriot EEZ, if there is no agreement about the exploitation of hydrocarbons between the two sides? Anastasiades, understandably, has rejected Akinci’s idea of an interim agreement on hydrocarbons, but he is being naïve in thinking that the Turkish side will agree to a new peace process without a time-frame so that drilling for gas, scheduled for later this year, will not be blocked by Turkey.
Perhaps the intentions of the two sides regarding the peace process will become clearer after Monday night’s dinner, but nobody would bet on it.