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A critical time in the peace process

Downer (r) was in New York to discuss with Ban Ki-moon (l) the obstacles that are preventing the resumption of peace talks

By Stefanos Evripidou 

UN SECRETARY-General Ban Ki-moon was due to meet with his special adviser on Cyprus Alexander Downer last night at a critical time in the peace process.

According to reports, Ban invited Downer to UN headquarters to discuss the obstacles that are preventing the resumption of peace talks on the island.

Downer was due to arrive in New York yesterday, with many meetings scheduled during his short stay, including a 5pm (New York time) meeting with Ban at the UN headquarters.

UN Special Representative in Cyprus Lisa Buttenheim is also currently in New York.

Shortly after his meetings, Downer will depart for Cyprus where he is due to arrive tonight. The Australian is coming to the island to meet with the two community leaders separately next week and their respective negotiators in an effort to find ways out of the current deadlock.

“A critical sense of uncertainty looms over the Cyprus peace process,” said a diplomatic source yesterday.

After so many months without a resumption of the peace talks, the situation is viewed as “serious, if not desperate”.

The UN Good Offices currently remain on hold, awaiting guidance on their next steps, as the two sides appear to have reached a dead end in negotiations to agree on a joint statement.

Speaking to London Greek Radio yesterday, deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said the government was waiting to see the outcome of Ban’s discussions with Downer on the obstacles preventing agreement on a joint statement.

President Nicos Anastasiades has made it clear that a joint statement clarifying the basis of a solution, the procedure to be followed and the desired outcome of negotiations was a must if the talks were to resume.

Anastasiades highlighted he will not enter into talks just for the sake of talks. First, he wants to see that he and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu are on the same page.

At the same time, the president has called on Turkey to take a “bold” step to inject a new impetus to the talks, proposing a package deal for the return of Varosha, in exchange for the opening of Famagusta port and EU negotiating chapters for Turkey.

Anastasiades also wants to see a legal representative of the European Council appointed to the UN Good Offices to assist the peace process, and highlight the parameters within which a solution could be formulated, based on EU laws and principles.

For the Greek Cypriots, agreement on a joint statement, at the least, is seen as a precondition for the resumption of talks. The Turkish Cypriots, meanwhile, have said they are ready to start now, and negotiate later.

The feeling at the Presidential Palace is that the Greek Cypriots cannot afford another failure in the peace process and want to ensure that both sides see eye-to-eye on the future set-up of a reunited Cyprus before launching talks.

However, in efforts to agree on a joint statement, the two sides are already at odds over the nature of a federal Cyprus, particularly how it will come about, and what ‘single sovereignty’ and ‘single citizenship’ actually mean for the two constituent states.

Perhaps frustrated with the lack of progress, the government has failed to deny or put to bed reports in the Greek Cypriot media that Downer’s actions are harming the process.

Anastasiades repeatedly refused to comment on allegations- which the UN twice refuted- that Downer had sent an email to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso saying that enhancing the EU’s role in the talks might not help the talks.

According to sources, this has left the UN Good Offices somewhat perplexed since Downer has, for some time now, supported the view that enlarging the talks to include key players like the EU and Turkey would help the process.

Speaking previously to the Cyprus Mail, analyst Hubert Faustmann suggested that in the back of his mind, Anastasiades may be thinking about coalition partner DIKO’s leadership elections on December 1. Garoyian yesterday officially announced his intention to run for re-election of the party leadership. His main opponent for the seat is expected to be DIKO MP Nicolas Papadopoulos.

If Papadopoulos beats Garoyian, DIKO could find itself abandoning the coalition, leaving ruling DISY isolated in government and parliament, where a host of austerity bills remain to be passed.

The government would then be left with only one potential ally for a Cyprus solution, main opposition party AKEL. This might explain the president’s reluctance to back down or seem weak in the talks on a joint statement, argued Faustmann.

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