By Elias Hazou
The UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide has conceded that, despite his efforts, chances are slim for the resumption of direct Cyprus peace talks in the near future.
“We are not giving up…but right now there are no prospects for an immediate meeting [of the two leaders] and I think that will be true for quite awhile,” the UN official said on Wednesday.
He was speaking to reporters coming out of a meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades. The Norwegian diplomat is on the island in an improbable bid to put stalled negotiations back on track.
Eide imparted a certain disappointment over the present impasse. Responding to a question, the UN official said that his ideas were not always successful, adding that on this trip he was here to listen to the two leaders.
Although both leaders were in favour of resuming talks, it had not been possible to resolve complications, he said. “I’m concerned, I’m increasingly concerned that things are not moving and I’m afraid that as they are not moving they are de facto moving in the wrong direction,” the special adviser added. “If you remember in October I said that if this hydrocarbon crisis will last for a few weeks or even a few months; it would not threaten the process itself. Now it’s lingering on we are way into the next year and I think is really important that everybody now tries to do what they can to get over this”.
Eide spoke of a paradox, in that there is greater agreement on the future than on the present. Whereas the sides agree that hydrocarbons should be the competency of the central government in a reunified state, they cannot agree on how to unlock the current stalemate.
The UN official said that during a lull in natural gas drilling by the Greek Cypriots, and a simultaneous halt in seismic surveys by Turkey in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the UN had tried to work out a formula to bring the two leaders back to the table.
But the efforts failed due to a number of factors, he said, without elaborating.
This was unfortunate, Eide said, because whatever disagreements existed on the issue of hydrocarbons were less severe than divergences on such thorny subjects as property and territory.
Eide welcomed Anastasiades’ positive contribution, which however did not succeed in ending the standoff.
“The difference on the issue is so deep that it prevents any direct talks about anything which I think is highly unfortunate because we should now be at the table so that this issues can actually be discussed,” said Eide. “And I reiterate that there is a positive step from Mr Anastasiades and this step should be followed with some kind of response from the other side.”
He was referring to last week’s overture by Anastasiades to the Turkish Cypriots, when the President stated the island’s hydrocarbons resources could be discussed at the tail end of the talks process.
Previously Nicosia had ruled out discussing hydrocarbons prior to a comprehensive settlement.
Anastasiades said after the meeting with Eide the issue was not whether hydrocarbons were on the table or not. “It has already been agreed that the management of the natural resources comes under the competencies of the central government,” Anastasiades said.
“It has been discussed and it has been agreed. Also agreed has been the issue of the allocation of the total resources of the federal state among which are also the natural resources. That is why the Turkish Cypriots never raised an issue during the joint communique or during the exchange of the proposals. Consequently, it is not the first time that is being raised. But there is also no way that the issue will be discussed before the completion of the total agreement, and always with implementation of whatever will be agreed after the solution.”
On Tuesday, Eide had met separately with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu. After that meeting, the UN official warned that the deadlock has started damaging the peace process.
Eide will be shuttling back to the island once again before January 26, the date on which he will brief the UN Security Council on Cyprus, in view of the renewal of UNFICYP’s mandate.
On his next visit here, he said, the aim will be to clinch an agreement between the leaders on a schedule of meetings and a timeline. Achieving that goal would allow him to report back to the Security Council that prospects for a solution still existed, Eide said.
For its part the government said it expected Eide to give the Security Council an “objective” account as to why the Cyprus peace talks remain deadlocked.
“We are not asking the United Nations to present a picture in our favour,” government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said.
“We are asking for the facts to be presented as is: an objective briefing on what took place and why it has not been possible for the dialogue to resume.”
The ball is now in the court of the Turkish side if negotiations are to resume, the spokesman said.
Meanwhile Turkey’s foreign minister Melvut Cavusoglu on Wednesday accused Nicosia of deliberately excluding Turkish Cypriots from sharing in the island’s wealth.
In comments to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, Cavusoglu proposed setting up an escrow account holding the share of natural gas revenues allotted to the Turkish Cypriots.
The account could be held in trust by either the UN or the World Bank, the chief Turkish diplomat said.
Once this was done, he added, negotiations in Cyprus could resume.
Greek Cypriots have “failed the sincerity test,” Cavusoglu noted, claiming that Nicosia is coming up with all sorts of excuses to avoid sharing the island’s natural resources.
“We proposed establishing a [joint hydrocarbons] commission, they [Greek Cypriots] said no, because that would amount to recognition [of the breakaway regime]. Then we proposed setting up a private company, again they rejected this. Then what else can be done?”
Turkey is not opposed to hydrocarbons prospecting in the eastern Mediterranean, provided that this was not unilateral, Cavusoglu added.
Cavusoglu was due in the north for talks with the Turkish Cypriot leadership later on Wednesday.
Anastasiades pulled out of peace talks in October, after Turkey issued a NAVTEX, or marine advisory. Turkey then began offshore seismic surveys within Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone – illegally according to Nicosia – by despatching the vessel Barbaros.
The advisory expired on December 30 and was not renewed by Turkey. On January 5 Anastasiades stated he would not resume talks unless Ankara guaranteed it would cease explorations in the EEZ.
The following day Turkey issued a new NAVTEX. Although the Barbaros remains in Cypriot waters, it has since not conducted any new surveys.
Turkey does not recognise the Republic nor its jurisdiction over the EEZ, and accuses Nicosia of “unilateral” hydrocarbons prospecting, leaving out the Turkish Cypriot community.
The Turkish NAVTEX runs until April and in the same month the breakaway regime will be holding ‘presidential elections.’