FOR YEARS our politicians had been arguing that the only way to solve the Cyprus problem is through direct talks with the Turkish government. This gave rise to the line, repeated by many of them over the years that ‘the key is in Ankara’. They were right, because there could never be a settlement without the agreement and support of the Turkish government, which has been running the occupied north ever since 1974.
For Ankara this was not an option as it had always argued, rather disingenuously, that the Cyprus problem was a bi-communal dispute, which supposedly, had nothing to do with Turkey; the responsibility for reaching a deal belonged to the two communities. There was a departure from this position earlier this week. Greece’s foreign minister Evangelos Venizelos, after a lengthy meeting in New York with his Turkish counterpart Ahmed Davutoglu, announced that his government would meet the Turkish Cypriot negotiator in the Cyprus talks, provided the Turkish government met the Greek Cypriot negotiator.
Although there had been no official confirmation by Ankara, Venizelos said the arrangement was “very important” as it “is a new procedural element, which contributes to creating momentum.” President Anastasiades welcomed the news, saying that Turkey’s involvement would be beneficial to the talks and it was difficult to disagree with him. After 39 years, the Greek Cypriots have had their demand, to speak directly with the Turkish government, satisfied.
In Cyprus there was the predictable knee-jerk reaction by the small hard-line political parties which identified all types of risks. Direct contacts would supposedly lead to the downgrading of the Cyprus Republic (or its disappearance from the talks) and, inevitably the upgrading of the pseudo-state; it would also pave the way for the dreaded ‘four-party conference’ which was by definition a bad thing. It was the usual paranoid rhetoric the hard-liners routinely resort to when there is a move away from the normal procedure that never yields results.
The reality is that Anastasiades achieved the objective of having direct contact with the Turkish government during the talks. There is no harm in the Turkish Cypriot negotiator having direct contact with the Athens government as part of the deal – the agreement has to work both ways. Nobody can say with any certainty that this agreement would make the difference once talks commence, but it is a positive step that could turn out to be a catalyst for real progress. This is what the hardliners fear and not the supposed downgrading of the Republic.