AS IT IS certain the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide will not be arriving in Cyprus tomorrow for the Holy Week church services, we can deduce that his visit might have something to do with fixing a date for the resumption of the talks. All the causes of the interruption – the Turkish NAVTEX, the incursions of the Barbaros in the Cypriot EEZ, the exploratory drilling by ENI-KOGAS – no longer exist and neither side can stay away from the negotiations.
Only President Anastasiades seemed to be unaware of the reason for the visit. Asked on Wednesday whether Eide would announce a resumption of the talks, he responded negatively and playfully claimed not to know the reason for the visit. He conceded that the envoy would have consultations to establish whether conditions for the resumption of the talks had been created, but expressed doubts about the existence of these conditions.
As the Barbaros left Famagusta port on Monday and the NAVTEX expires tomorrow, both conditions set by Anastasiades for returning to the talks have been satisfied. Last Sunday, however he appeared to have set a new condition, when he said: “Our participation in a procedure that would, in effect, accept the disputing of the national sovereignty of the Cyprus republic should be expected by nobody.”
He repeated a milder variation of this condition on Wednesday saying the “sovereign rights of the Cyprus Republic should not be disregarded.”
Was he being playful, setting new conditions in order to avoid going to the talks or was this just a rhetorical flourish? Then again, the president’s rhetorical flourishes have of late adopted the phraseology of those who are opposed to the talks and a settlement, although he has stopped short of endorsing their vacuous call for a new strategy. After attending the April 1 church service he again said he was waiting for the creation of the conditions for the resumption of negotiations and once these were created “there would certainly be the appropriate consultations with the political forces.”
But what need is there for consultations with political forces that are openly opposed to the resumption of the talks and have been expressing fears that the president was being pressured into returning to the talks as if this were a bad thing? In the last few days all parties, except AKEL and DISY, have bluntly told Anastasiades not to return to the talks or at least to set such conditions that would be certain to prevent their resumption.
On Friday, one newspaper, quoting unnamed government sources, said Anastasiades feared the possibility of Turkey sending the Barbaros into the Cypriot EEZ while talks were in progress, but neither the UN nor the US was prepared to give an assurance this would not happen.
The truth is Anastasiades would welcome a return of the Barbaros to the EEZ once talks have resumed because this would give him a legitimate reason to walk out. What he really fears is that this time the talks would not be allowed to drag on indefinitely and that Eide, who has the full support of the international community, is determined to achieve a result within the next few months.
This is why the idea of talks at a venue abroad, with the participation of Turkey and Greece, has been mentioned although there is no such plan at present.
Despite his alleged commitment to settlement, Anastasiades is terrified of the prospect of being locked into a negotiation process which would have no escape route until a deal is reached. He is also aware this could be the last chance for a settlement – a point repeatedly made by the Norwegian envoy – and that delaying tactics, to which he had resorted so far, would not be an option.
There might not be suffocating time-frames, but it is highly unlikely the process would be allowed to last much longer than a few months before an overall settlement is put on the table or, failing that, the UN winds up the whole process.
In short, once the talks begin there will be no turning back and big decisions, one way or the other, will have to be taken. Anastasiades is fully aware of this which is why he has been setting new conditions and looking for excuses not to return to the talks. Like his predecessors he appears unwilling to sacrifice his presidency for a settlement, which is not a good sign, even if Eide secures the president’s grudging agreement to the resumption of the talks.