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‘Serious prospects’ for peace talks

Party leaders with President Anastasiades at the Palace yesterday

By Stefanos Evripidou

PRESIDENT NICOS Anastasiades yesterday heralded the “serious prospects” that peace talks would finally start between the two communities, calling on detractors to show “patience and self-restraint” to achieve the greatest possible unity at this “sensitive point”.

The call appeared to fall on deaf ears, as all parties bar ruling DISY and main opposition AKEL voiced their opposition to the resumption of talks based on the latest draft text of the joint communiqué.

During a live public address following his meeting with party leaders yesterday, Anastasiades confirmed that the Greek Cypriot side has agreed to a new draft proposal of the joint communiqué and was now waiting for the Turkish Cypriot response.

“Today, it seems that serious prospects are in the making for a substantive joint communiqué, which satisfies the basic principles for a solution to the Cyprus problem and will lead to the resumption of negotiations, not for the sake of the negotiations,” he said.

A “big effort” is underway to reach agreement, with negotiations at a “very sensitive point”, said the president, adding: “As far as our side is concerned we said whatever we had to say and it remains for the other side to respond.”

Anastasiades alluded to the most contested issue in the negotiations: “It seems that some concerns expressed by our side, for example, on sovereignty, also preoccupy, in a contrary way, the concerns of the other side.”

Negotiations on the joint communiqué appeared to hit a snag at the end of 2013, after which the US became more directly involved in the process, with reports of US Ambassador John Koenig working in cooperation with the UN Good Offices to bring Ankara, the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots closer to agreement.

This past week saw a flurry of activity, with the US and Turkish foreign ministers reportedly discussing the Cyprus problem last Saturday in Munich and senior US diplomat Victoria Nuland arriving on the island to meet the two community leaders on Tuesday.

Yesterday, a step closer to the resumption of talks was taken. Anastasiades briefed the party leaders at the presidential palace on the final draft text he has agreed to before departing for Greece to hold talks with the Greek leadership today.

In his public address, the president called for “a collective approach and the strongest possible unity” to handle the next stages in the peace negotiations.

“That is why I suggest patience and self-restraint, so that we will not be led astray toward possible baseless and misleading interpretations,” he said, hinting at the possible internal war of words that would likely follow any agreement on a joint communiqué.

Anastasiades said should the Turkish Cypriots respond positively to the latest draft proposal, he would address the Cypriot people and “inform them analytically, but also in depth, about the actual facts”. Until then, he would not comment on the various criticisms of his handling of the joint communiqué.

“At the same time, I want to stress that the effort to reach agreement on a joint communiqué is the beginning of a big and arduous effort to at last achieve a solution to the Cyprus problem, and certainly not the end.”

In response to a reporter’s comment that most political leaders were against the resumption of fully-fledged negotiations on the basis of the latest draft text, Anastasiades said: “First, I said that I respect the various views.

Second, as I have said, I will address the people of Cyprus providing the real dimensions, but also the true content, of the joint communiqué, based also on the advice that I have from the team of advisors that were proposed to me by the parties.”

The president further hinted at the differing interpretations afforded aspects of the contentious draft document, which sources say will outline the parameters of a future solution in a manner more significant than the two previous high-level agreements recorded in the late 1970s.

Anastasiades said when he addresses the people he will analyse the real content of the communiqué, as it is actually recorded on the basis of expert opinions and not on the basis of various interpretations.

“It is a fact that some things are interpreted one way and others another. That’s what I’m referring to.”

Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu fired off a series of statements in response to Greek Cypriot press reports that an agreement was nigh. On Wednesday evening, he denied reports that an agreement on a joint declaration had been reached, repeating his commitment to the Turkish Cypriot proposal tabled on December 14, which the Greek Cypriots had already rejected as is.

Yesterday, he released a second statement confirming that a new draft proposal was handed over in the morning by the UN and that negotiations were ongoing.

By afternoon, a third statement was released by Eroglu’s office saying it appeared negotiations on the joint communiqué were at the final stage, adding that the Turkish Cypriot leader was waiting for the Greek Cypriot side to clarify its stance before negotiations could start.

Turkish Cypriot daily Yeni Duzen yesterday cited a diplomatic source saying the aim was for the two leaders to meet on Monday to kick-start negotiations. The paper also said UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer was expected on the island in the coming days.

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