THREE CHEERS for the road-map, the time-frame, asphyxiating or artificial, and the international conference that were agreed at Thursday night’s dinner. This was the best news we have had since the latest bout of talks began some 18 months ago as it broke the deadlock and put an end-date on the process. The two sides now have a little over a month to resolve all outstanding issues relating to the four chapters they had been discussing for 18 months and prepare for the final phase on security and guarantees.
‘Time-frame’ has always been a dirty word in the Cyprus problem discourse for the Greek Cypriot side. Nobody, not even members of the pro-settlement, dared to support it in public for fear of being accused of treachery and of siding with the Turks and foreigners that wanted to ‘close’ the issue ‘in a rush’. The patriots wanted the problem to remain open forever so they could keep marketing their brave resistance and defiance, while being spared the responsibility of having to make any difficult choices.
It was not that long ago that as president Demetris Christofias went to New York for crunch talks with Dervis Eroglu and the UN secretary-general boasting that he had packed three ‘nos’ in his bag – a ‘no’ to time-frames, a ‘no’ to arbitration and a ‘no’ to an international conference. Exactly what we would have expected from a man – with a pathological fear of taking responsibility – that was never honestly committed to a settlement. It is no coincidence that the Russian ambassador Cyprus, every time he grudgingly voices support for the peace process, makes a point of reminding there should be ‘no time-frames’.
‘No time-frame’ is code for ‘no settlement’, because without it we could engage in negotiations that lead nowhere, indefinitely. Phileleftheros, the mouthpiece of rejectionism, disapprovingly announced Thursday night’s deal with the banner headline, “Acceptance of time-frame”, noting in its report that it was “indeed asphyxiating”. This was one of the main themes of the criticism levelled at Anastasiades by the anti-settlement parties, because they know that, one way or another, we are heading for the end of the Cyprus problem.
After 50 years of inconclusive negotiations, it is about time. The time for the difficult choices cannot be put off any longer. In January, there will either be an agreement that will be put to a referendum or there will be a collapse of the talks and the preferred solution of the rejectionists – partition – would become final. Their worry is that they do not want it to become final, because they will no longer be able to politically exploit the Cyprus problem, peddling empty promises and false hope. Nobody would believe them if this process, which had everything going for it, failed and nobody would buy talk of new strategies – hence their fanatical aversion to time-frames.
President Anastasiades, to his immense credit, has recognised that the time for the big decisions had arrived and that this was an opportunity too good to be missed simply because of disagreements over procedure, which had traditionally been used by our leaders as the pretext for avoiding dealing with the substance of the talks. Procedural disagreements had caused the breakdown of the talks in Mont Pelerin, but Anastasiades had the political courage to put these aside in order to save the process. In Friday night’s address to the people, he said “serious risks would have emerged from a prolonged deadlock or the termination of the process” which was why the resumption of the talks was an imperative.
He also mentioned the time-frames in his address. “Nor can the fact that dates for meetings have been set, in a process that started 18 months ago, or has been going on for 42 years, be considered as imposing asphyxiating time-frames,” he quite rightly pointed out. Accepting the time-frame is emphatic proof that Anastasiades is determined to go all the way. The sceptics, who expressed doubts about his commitment to finding a settlement, should have been silenced. The big decision, even though it has been slammed as a volte-face, has been made and by mid-January we will either have a deal or a breakdown that will finalise partition.
A deal, however, would not be the end of the road, because it will still have to be put to a referendum. This would be the time-frame for Greek Cypriots to decide whether they want a re-unification or partition. Not before time.