SUFFOCATING or artificial time-frames for a Cyprus settlement have been turned into a national phobia by the Greek Cypriot political establishment. After the 2004 Annan plan experience the political leadership resolved never to accept suffocating time-frames and arbitration again. In the 11 years since then, any talks between the two sides have been without time-frames, let alone suffocating ones, and have yet to lead anywhere.
Lack of urgency has become the key feature of the Greek Cypriots’ approach to peace talks. So much so that whenever there is an attempt to speed up procedures politicians and journalists issue dire warnings of attempts to “close of the Cyprus problem,” with a “rushed solution.” It is quite amazing that more than 40 years of efforts that have led nowhere people can still warn of a “rushed solution” and keep a straight face. This is the stuff of parody, although nobody seems to realise it.
When Mustafa Akinci said a couple of months ago that the target was to have a referendum in March and that parliamentary elections in the Republic scheduled for May might have to be called off, there was outrage on the Greek Cypriot side. President Anastasiades had accepted a time-frame, protested the opposition parties, as if this were a crime. It was certainly not suffocating, as there were still five months until March, but Anastasiades and his spokesmen were at pains to deny there was any deadline.
A few of weeks ago, the president conceded May parliamentary elections might have to be called off if there was a deal, causing political uproar, but he repeated this as a possibility at the National Council meeting of 10 days ago. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor Espen Barth Eide, who had reportedly told the European Commission that he expected to have a deal by early next year, changed his tune last month, saying there was no timetable for the conclusion of the talks. He has been repeating this since.
On Sunday, in an interview with Athens paper Kathimerini, Anastasiades did not rule out the possibility that 2016 might pass without a deal being reached. There were many details that had to be agreed and recorded, he said, and this process would take time. An agreement by summer, however, was not outside the realm of possibility, he added. Have the two leaders and Eide decided that there was still too much ground to cover or was this just a communications ploy aimed at minimising the negativity surrounding the talks?
Anastasiades admitted during Sunday’s interview that the passing of time “is not to the benefit of a solution,” and nobody could disagree with him. His subsequent remark was bit more difficult to believe – he said the Greek Cypriot side wanted a settlement “as soon as possible.” We no longer know what to believe and can only hope these mixed signals are being transmitted for a purpose.