By Stefanos Evripidou
UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer yesterday met with the two sides’ negotiators for what appeared to be a final round of contacts before he briefs the UN Security Council next week on the failure to agree on a joint declaration.
Speaking after his meeting with the UN official, Turkish Cypriot negotiator Osman Ertug said the only proposal on the table for a joint declaration was the one submitted by the Turkish Cypriot side on December 14.
According to reports, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu passed on the draft text to Downer during his brief visit to the occupied north.
Four days later, the Greek Cypriots sent a counter-proposal with some small changes to the text which the Turkish Cypriots rejected on December 28, in the process making it clear that the December 14 proposal was their final offer.
In effect, Ertug yesterday reconfirmed the Turkish Cypriot side’s rejection of the Greek Cypriot counter-proposal. He maintained that the Turkish Cypriot proposal had the support of all stakeholders on the Turkish side and expressed the hope the Greek Cypriots could be convinced to accept it.
He repeated the view that the Turkish Cypriots are ready to start negotiations without any preconditions or a joint declaration.
According to a Greek Cypriot source, Downer’s meeting with negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis focused on “procedural” issues on the next steps forward.
The source said the Greek Cypriots are keen to continue efforts for a joint declaration, noting however, that no further meeting has been scheduled with Downer.
Mavroyiannis and Downer briefly discussed the proposal of President Nicos Anastasiades for a shorter, simpler joint declaration to get the ball rolling in the peace talks, though the chances appear slim as the Turkish Cypriot side is reportedly not warm on the idea of embarking on a similar process to the one they have engaged in for the last three months.
It is believed that Downer will leave Cyprus tomorrow ahead of his briefing of the UN Security Council (UNSC) next Wednesday on the peace talks.
Special Representative Lisa Buttenheim will also brief the UNSC on the same day regarding peacekeeping operations on the island, while by the end of the month the Security Council is expected to vote on the renewal of UNFICYP’s mandate.
The source noted that it did not seem likely Downer would hang around for a meeting with the two leaders on the island.
Anastasiades left Cyprus on Tuesday for an official visit to London and is not due back until tomorrow, while Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu is in Turkey for meetings with the Turkish leadership, an invite he has not enjoyed for some time.
According to sources, Downer cancelled a meeting with Anastasiades originally scheduled for last Monday after hearing statements made by the president to Antenna TV channel and Politis newspaper where he accused the Australian of bias.
Anastasiades bemoaned the lack of impartiality shown by Downer, accused him of failing to protect and promote UNSC resolutions and questioned whether he had anything left to contribute to the process.
Sources told the Cyprus Mail that Downer was less than amused by the president’s criticism and wanted to make a point by not seeing him on Monday.
Other diplomatic sources questioned why Anastasiades decided to launch a personal attack on Downer and make him a scapegoat of the failed process. The president has effectively joined the majority of political parties in suggesting Downer needs to leave his post, only he has yet to put it in such clear words, like some of the smaller parties do.
One source argued that had Anastasiades left things alone, in a sober assessment of the process, Eroglu would come out looking “difficult”. But with the latest attack on Downer and numerous letters sent to the UN Secretary-General by Anastasiades, the international community- some of whom put huge effort in trying to conclude a joint declaration- are left somewhat frustrated regarding his intentions for a solution, argued the source.
It remains to be seen what Downer will choose to focus on when briefing the UNSC next week and whether he apportions any responsibility for the failure to resume fully-fledged peace talks.
Of course, there is always the possibility, however remote, that the two sides will overcome the impasse before Downer’s briefing to the Security Council.