By Stefanos Evripidou
THE SNOW on high may have started to melt yesterday but on lower ground, relations between the two sides on the island remained as cold as ice after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s arrival failed to deliver the goods, at least in public.
Expectations were high as the day started, after last-ditch efforts by the UN to clinch a deal on a joint declaration before Christmas appeared to bear fruit. By the end of the day, both sides reverted to their trenches, taking pot shots at each other, and leaving diplomats pondering the fact they are an inch from the finish line.
A UN bridging proposal to overcome the deadlock on the term ‘single sovereignty’ seemed to gain traction on Friday evening, prompting UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer to turn back from Larnaca airport where he was to board a flight home, and return to the capital for further consultations with the two sides.
Sources close to the talks predicted that yesterday would be a “big day” for the process.
Reflecting that view, President Nicos Anastasiades called an informal meeting of the party leaders yesterday morning to brief them on the latest. After the one and a half hour meeting, the president refused to comment on what might be expected next.
He told reporters, “wait and see”, indicating there might be something afoot in the afternoon following a meeting between Davutoglu and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu in the north.
Anastasiades added: “In no case will any decision of mine be taken without informing the public and providing the justification.”
Government spokesman Christos Stylianides noted that party leaders were told to remain on hold in the event that they need to be called back to the Presidential Palace for a fresh briefing “at any given time”.
Asked if the two sides were close to agreement, the spokesman said: “When it comes to the Cyprus problem, one could be very close and at the same time very far.”
As the day wore on, a tense silence emanated from the Palace as all eyes went north of the buffer zone to the joint press conference between Davutoglu and Eroglu in the occupied part of Nicosia.
A day earlier in Athens, Davutoglu appeared to extend a friendly hand to the Greek Cypriots when he said that it was important Cyprus remained a single state post-solution.
However, any notion of a thaw in relations was quickly swept away at the Nicosia press conference where Davutoglu gave his full public support to Eroglu’s handling of the talks so far, saying that the Turkish Cypriots are ready and willing to sit down at the negotiating table , arguing they have already proved they can be flexible.
The Turkish FM said he wanted to send three messages. First to the Turkish Cypriots that Turkey will continue to provide every support for a peaceful solution of the Cyprus problem. Second, to Anastasiades that now is the time for political will. He called on Anastasiades to avoid making tactical manoeuvres that would delay the process and meet with Eroglu to reach consensus on a joint declaration and start substantial talks for a comprehensive settlement. At the same time, Davutoglu argued that the declaration- a clear precondition for the Greek Cypriots- was not as important as the two leaders having the political will to solve this conflict.
A third message was sent to the UN and international community. Davutoglu warned that Turkey will not accept the continuation of an open-ended peace process so long as the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots continues.
For his part, Eroglu maintained that he has shown all the good will necessary to make progress.
Meanwhile, Davutoglu also met with Downer in the afternoon for over half an hour, though no statements were made afterwards.
The Turkish media continued to play up the chances of success, reporting that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras on Friday to discuss Cyprus. Hurriyet Daily News quoted Davutoglu talking about the current “positive psychological atmosphere” which is favourable to finding a Cyprus solution.
“Hopefully this will is shared by everyone so that a vision that can bring peace to the island can be developed,” Davutoğlu said, adding once again that the election of Anastasiades had been a major turning point.
Across the dividing line and the Palace started to speak. In an unusually strong-worded statement, government spokesman Christos Stylianides said: “The Eroglu-Davutoglu statements have torpedoed any possibility of relaunching a meaningful dialogue on the Cyprus problem.”
Stylianides argued that the president has fought hard the last three months to overcome the deadlock and enter into fully-fledged negotiations with a constructive stance.
“The Turkish Cypriot leadership with the assistance of the Turkish side persisted on extreme and uncompromising positions. Under such conditions, the president is not willing to enter into a dialogue for the sake of dialogue.”
He called on the international community to help the volatile region of the Eastern Mediterranean finally enter a period of peace, stability and cooperation.
“The president and Greek Cypriot side will continue with their constructive stance, which emanates from the decisions and resolutions of the UN, believing that cooperation and stability in the region is to the benefit of all peoples in the region, especially the Cypriot people in their entirety, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots,” said the spokesman.
Leader of coalition partner DIKO Nicolas Papadopoulos said Davutoglu’s comments constituted “a monument to Turkish intransigence, provocation and arrogance”.
Meanwhile, Greek Cypriot sources close to the talks said it was hard to say there has been any progress since Friday but that they will wait to see if anything new comes from the Turkish Cypriot side next week and what it will look like.
Another source said it looked like there would be one more effort to overcome the deadlock on the wording of the joint declaration but he didn’t know when that would be.
A diplomatic source said a lot of people have been working very hard, not just in Cyprus, but around the world, to bring the effort 99 per cent to completion.
Regarding the seemingly negative climate, they said the Turkish Cypriots were engaging in theatrics to hide the fact that historic breakthroughs are about to be made.
“There is only one per cent to go. Cyprus is on the verge of a new and defining High-Level Agreement.”
Of course, the 99 per cent could be lost if the interested parties fail to stay focused on the end goal, they added.