By Stefanos Evripidou
UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer made a dramatic turnaround from Larnaca airport last night, returning to Nicosia to continue last ditch efforts to agree on a joint declaration before Christmas.
Downer had initially hung up his boots for 2013, bidding goodbye to both sides yesterday, saying he would return in January. He even made a wish for progress on a Cyprus solution in 2014.
“One day we’ll make it,” he told reporters after seeing Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.
But as he was being driven home for Christmas last night, via Larnaca airport, the UN official got a change of heart, and for reasons not yet clear, turned around, heading back to the capital for more talks on the elusive joint declaration.
According to sources, after almost giving up on the chance of progress before the Christmas holidays, some breakthroughs and a series of dramatic efforts were made, ensuring that talks would continue, at least for another 24 hours.
One source close to the talks saw Downer’s return from the airport as a “serious development”. Cyprus was very close to seeing the resumption of fully-fledged talks and the efforts were ongoing, said the source, adding that one way or another, today would be a “big day” in terms of the outcome.
Another source was less willing to talk of a breakthrough, saying, “We’ll have to wait and see”. The source said the hard work would continue today.
However in a latest twist President Anastasiades has urgently asked for a meeting with party leaders at the Presidential Palace at 10.30 Saturday morning.
Before his U-turn, Downer visited both leaders separately to discuss the next steps forward after talks on a joint declaration hit a brick wall over the words “single sovereignty” of a federal Cyprus.
For the Greek Cypriots, without ‘single sovereignty’ in the text, there can be no joint declaration, while the Turkish Cypriots, so far, reject them.
Despite intense efforts throughout the week to overcome the impasse, Downer called it a day yesterday, at least for this year.
He met with President Nicos Anastasiades in the morning and Eroglu in the afternoon. Asked about whether any progress has been recorded, Downer opted for “discretion”.
“These are understandably delicate times and the less we say about the substance of these issues the better.”
After meeting Eroglu, he said he was leaving for Australia to spend Christmas there and would return in the New Year. Downer noted that he would stay in contact with the UN team in Cyprus and New York and both sides on the island, while in the second half of January he would have a chance to update the UN Security Council during proceedings for the renewal of UNFICYP’s mandate.
Asked whether the visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in the occupied areas today would have a positive impact, he reportedly replied that wherever Davutoglu goes there is a positive effect.
Davutoglu is due to hold meetings with the Turkish Cypriot leadership this morning, culminating in a joint press conference with Eroglu this afternoon before leaving the island the same day.
Meanwhile, both leaders yesterday tried to shift the blame for lack of progress on the other.
Eroglu argued that the Turkish Cypriot will for a solution was clear and that the international community should see which side was being rejectionist. Negotiations could not start from zero every time there was a new Greek Cypriot leader, he said. He added that the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots must end.
At the same time, he argued that the existence of a ‘state’ in the breakaway north put them a position of ‘strength’ in the negotiations.
On the sidelines of an event organised by the Limassol Bar Association yesterday, when asked how close the two sides were to reaching agreement on a joint declaration, Anastasiades replied: “We are as far as we are close.”
During his address at the event, he said peace efforts were at a very “delicate” stage.
“We dare to take steps” but at the same time demand that the principles and international laws of the UN and EU are fully respected in a federal Cyprus Republic, he said.
“We are a member of the EU, we are a member of the UN. We want the principles of international law and the EU to be fully implemented in our country too. Only then will we feel we have done our duty to our country.”
The Cyprus problem was also discussed during a meeting between Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Davutoglu yesterday in Athens. The Turkish FM also met with Greek Premier Antonis Samaras.
A source close to the talks told the Cyprus Mail that Downer’s turnaround yesterday had nothing to do with the meeting in Athens.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Venizelos, Davutoglu said a lot of valuable time has been lost since the Annan plan in 2004. He also referred to the significant body of work done so far on what a peace solution would look like.
Asked about the ‘single sovereignty’ obstacle regarding a joint declaration, he said Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots had made efforts to show flexibility and would continue to do so to reach a solution.
In a possible hint at that self-declared flexibility, Davutoglu said it was important for Cyprus to continue its existence as one state.
He described the election of Anastasiades this year as a “good omen”.
For his part, Venizelos said Greece was ready to contribute to forming the framework for a solution.
Perhaps a slip of the tongue, or also a hint at elasticity, the Greek FM said a solution must guarantee the country’s “single international personality, single external sovereignty and single citizenship”, the word ‘external’ being relatively new to public statements on the matter.