By Stefanos Evripidou
THE TWO leaders are set to kick-start peace talks on Monday after Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu accepted the latest version of the joint communiqué on Friday night.
Eroglu released a brief statement giving his nod of approval to the draft text, and opening the door to the resumption of peace talks early next week, a year and a half after he abandoned them.
Eroglu met with the Turkish Cypriot parties Friday afternoon to discuss the latest proposal, receiving the support of all parties to begin negotiations.
According to Turkish Cypriot press reports, the Republican Turkish party (CTP) and Social Democracy Party (TDP) were positive on the communiqué, while the Democratic Party-National Forces (DP-UG) and National Unity Party (UBP) expressed reservations. All the parties, however, agreed on the need to get negotiations started.
The Turkish Cypriot media also reported that Eroglu’s former aide Kudret Ozersay is returning to the negotiating team to provide assistance in the talks. It was not clear whether his return is meant to complement the team or replace incumbent negotiator Osman Ertug.
Following agreement of the two leaders, all indications now are that the talks will begin on Monday.
It remains to be seen whether UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer will travel to the island for the start of talks. Some reports suggest Downer’s involvement in Cyprus is coming to a close.
While Downer stayed abreast of developments from afar, the latest version of the joint communiqué is believed to be the result of heavy US involvement in the UN-led process, culminating in the arrival of top US diplomat for Europe Victoria Nuland in Cyprus last Tuesday.
On Thursday, Eroglu received a phone call from US Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns on Thursday.
The same day, following tweaks to the previous draft communiqué, President Nicos Anastasiades approved the final text, drawing fire from coalition partners DIKO and EVROKO as well as minority opposition parties EDEK, the Greens and Citizens’ Alliance. Only ruling DISY and main opposition AKEL offered their support for the start of talks.
According to a White House statement, Anastasiades also received a phone call Friday afternoon from US Vice President Joe Biden for what Nuland would likely describe as an “attaboy” conversation, confirming US support for a solution and appreciation for Cyprus as “a key partner in a vital region”.
The statement said Biden looked forward to the resumption of talks in the coming days, and “encouraged creative thinking on ways to improve prospects for success”.
Earlier in the day, Anastasiades was in Athens briefing Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos.
Following the meeting, Samaras said the Cyprus problem constituted the top priority of Greek foreign policy. The cornerstone of that policy is the constant consultation and coordination with the government of Cyprus.
“Our common goal is the termination of the illegal Turkish occupation and the comprehensive, agreed just, viable and functional solution which fully secures the single sovereignty, international personality and citizenship of a united Cyprus, its EU and eurozone status and implementation of EU laws throughout Cyprus,” said Samaras.
He went on to say that Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots will be responsible for sitting at the negotiating table to reach a final settlement.
“We must draw, of course, lessons from the recent, including very recent, phases in the course of the Cyprus problem and safeguard the conditions for the widest possible national consensus,” he said, in an obvious reference to the divisive 2004 Annan plan.
Any solution would have to be accepted through simultaneous referenda in which lawful residents of the two communities will participate, said Samaras, adding: “Greece will continue to support the president on procedure and substance.”
The Greek PM also reiterated his country’s continued support to Cyprus in the exercise of its sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“These rights emanate from international law, are recognised by the international community in its entirety with the exception of Turkey, which unfortunately, persists in unacceptable, and for sure, ultimately futile tactics to escalate tensions and impose new facts.”
Speaking at the press conference in Athens, Anastasiades said cooperation with Greece creates prospects for the much sought-after unity on the domestic front, considered vital to move forward.
“I have to say, the hardest part is yet to come,” he warned.
DIKO leader Nicolas Papadopoulos on Friday jumped on Samaras’ comments regarding learning lessons from the past to argue that the Greek PM did not support the joint communiqué.
As far as statements from a Greek premier go, these were the “mildest” comments ever made on the Cyprus problem, argued Papadopoulos.
He reminded that Samaras was against the Annan plan in 2004, while Anastasiades voted in favour.
The DIKO leader fuelled speculation that his party would withdraw from the coalition government any day soon when he criticised the joint communiqué for including worse references than those in the Annan plan.
“We have an unacceptable and dangerous document which we disagree with both in substance and in terms of the tactic followed by the president,” he said.
“We call on the president not to sign it, because unfortunately it poses danger to the very existence of the Cyprus Republic,” he added.
Speaking on CyBC’s main news show, government spokesman Christos Stylianides rejected the view that Samaras was warning against a return to the Annan plan.
The Greek premier left no room for doubt regarding his support for the procedure and substance of the talks, said Stylianides. Samaras sent the message that this is not the time for divisions but national consensus, and warned against repeating the divisive mistakes of the past, added the spokesman.
Using a football analogy, Stylianides said some politicians had yet to realise geopolitical changes in the region were giving Cyprus “a chance to play in the Premier League, yet some insist on keeping us in the lower divisions”.
EDEK leader Yiannakis Omirou agreed that the Cyprus Republic was in “mortal danger” and also called on the president not to approve the communiqué, which adopted “extremely dangerous provisions” and Annan plan elements.
EVROKO leader Demetris Syllouris repeated his view that adopting the joint communiqué was wrong but that his party would try to support the president where it can in the talks. He called on the president to withdraw from talks the moment Turkey violates Cyprus’ EEZ again.
Greens leader Giorgos Perdikis argued the president should have insisted instead on a shorter joint communiqué based on UN Security Council Resolution 1251.
Citizens’ Alliance leader Giorgos Lillikas called on Anastasiades to resign and call snap elections, arguing that the president lost his popular mandate the moment he returned to the “known Anastasiades of 2004”.
In comparison, AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou sounded somewhat upbeat, noting that the content of the agreed joint communiqué was “sufficient to resume talks”.
He voiced his party’s support for the talks process, noting that maintaining unity was the president’s job.
“I hope the parties understand that we need to cooperate in a climate of unity, to see how we can strengthen the chances of reaching agreement. That should be the goal of every party.”
Regarding those who call on the president not to resume negotiations, Kyprianou said: “For five months now, they have been trying to convince us that (an alternative) is possible. In practice, it’s been proven that it’s not.”
The AKEL leader also rejected criticism that the joint text left key issues like single sovereignty open to interpretation. “Some things cannot be open to many different interpretations; they can only have one interpretation.”
On concerns about creating double or triple citizenship in a united Cyprus, he said: “We shouldn’t be looking for problems where there are none.”
DISY spokesman Prodromos Prodromou highlighted the “important role” of the US in reaching a text which clearly establishes single sovereignty, international personality and citizenship.
“It must be made clear that the joint communiqué is only the beginning of a long negotiations process,” he said, calling for calm and unity.