SIGNS of the popular blame-game that has traditionally plagued the Cyprus problem have been appearing rather frequently of late. President Anastasiades and Dervis Eroglu kicked it off several weeks ago but their sparring was characterised by an element of restraint, content to engage in gentle sparring rather than in landing heavy body blows. It was as if they were training – getting in shape – in preparation for the real contest they expected would start in the not so distant future.
Eroglu has complained that the Greek Cypriot side was more interested in pursuing the return of the fenced area of Famagusta than negotiating a solution while Anastasiades has expressed disappointment over the gap separating the two sides at the talks. It was a rather polite exchange of accusations, exclusively for domestic consumption, to show people that their leaders are tough cookies. People have become accustomed to this theatre which is usually followed by assurances that the talks would continue regardless.
This week however the two negotiators, who had been avoiding publicising what they were discussing, took swipes at each other. Kudret Ozersay publicly expressed concern over Greek Cypriot attempts to renegotiate issues related to the EU and the economy that were included in the UN document of convergences. Ozersay complained that Anastasiades had agreed for talks to start from where they stopped, and wondered what the point was of negotiating issues that had already been agreed.
In response, Andreas Mavroyiannis issued a statement criticising Ozersay for ignoring the commitment to keeping the talks confidential. He also added that the convergences document was not on the negotiating table as the two sides were still at the initial stage and accused Ozersay of attempting to create false impressions. Interestingly, a week before this row, a Greek Cypriot source had told the Cyprus Mail that the Turkish Cypriot negotiating team had “completely unravelled positions” agreed by Talat and Christofias, thus creating a “huge distance” between the two sides.
We have been watching the same movie for the last 40 years even though a new element has been introduced to the procedure – ‘screening’ of the issues connected to the different chapters of the problem, a process which has been going on for the last two months and will be concluded, according to the UN, on Tuesday. Having seen this movie so many times, we also know the ending – failure to reach an agreement. Does anyone expect a different ending this time given that the procedure is following the same old script?
The fact is that in 40 years of UN-sponsored talks the two sides have never come anywhere near a deal of their own volition. The only time a comprehensive settlement was offered was 10 years ago and this was achieved, in spite of the two sides, thanks to arbitration by the UN Secretary-General and the setting of a time-frame for a referendum. But the big majority of Greek Cypriots voted against that plan because they were urged to do so by their president, who refused to engage constructively in negotiations.
Why are we persisting with a procedure that experience has shown does not yield results? Are the two sides being allowed to play the doomed talks game, until the US and, possibly, the EU take over the procedure in order to make things happen? This was the case with the joint declaration, the two sides bickering over the wording for months. The US eventually took over and through contacts with the two sides, Turkey and the UN a declaration that was acceptable to everyone was prepared.
This might be the way for a comprehensive settlement to be prepared, even though it would be much more difficult to pull off than the joint declaration and there would be howls of protest against US involvement. But without it the procedure would eventually grind to a halt, as it always does, giving way to the blame game. Perhaps the foreign involvement would materialise once the talks reach the obligatory stalemate, with differences on a range of issues considered unbridgeable.
For now, the two sides will be left to do what they have always done – engage in negotiations for the sake of negotiations and indulge in the blame-game – but the procedure cannot be allowed to go on forever. There will have to be direct foreign involvement at some stage because without it there could be no settlement. What more do the two sides have to do to prove that they are incapable of negotiating a compromise agreement?