ONE OF the most popular clichés used by our politicians, in the never-ending Cyprus problem exchanges, has been “the key to a solution is in Ankara.” While nobody could dispute this assertion – any settlement would be subject to the approval of Turkey before it would be finalised – it has also served as an excuse for the negative tactics our politicians have always brought to the peace talks either because they did not want to take very tough decisions or because they wanted to maintain the status quo.
This cliché was much used and abused by Demetris Christofias when he was president in order to hide his responsibility-phobia and defend his negativity. He blocked the publication of the convergences reached in talks with Mehmet Ali Talat, he said ‘no’ to timeframes, no to arbitration, no to an international conference and to intensified talks, because the key to a solution was in Ankara and there was nothing he could do about it. Some of the rejectionist politicians have even argued that we should be negotiating directly with the government in Ankara rather than with the Turkish Cypriots.
How predictable that now this has been made possible and President Anastasiades will have the opportunity to negotiate directly with Turkey in Geneva, a section of our political leadership do not want it to happen and have claimed that agreeing to a five-party conference was a “huge mistake.” Apparently, it went against our side’s unchanging position of the last 40 years that we would not attend a five-party conference. Here was the opportunity to negotiate directly with the Turkish government, which had the key to the solution, but we wanted to spurn it; we did not want to take our big chance to expose to the world Turkey’s intransigence.
Since Anastasiades agreed to the Geneva conference on December 1, we have been hearing nothing else but negative comments and major concerns related to the procedure. There could be no conference without the presence of the Cyprus Republic, they claimed while also demanding the participation of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. How could the Republic be absent from a conference that would discuss treaties affecting its existence? This would lead to its “downgrading”, they argued. Our politicians have always focused on the form and calculatingly ignored the content.
Regardless of all this fuss about procedural matters, the talks begin tomorrow in Geneva and maps with territorial adjustments have been exchanged on Wednesday the two leaders will be joined the next day by the representatives of Greece, Turkey and Britain who would be discussing security and guarantees. Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan had said he would attend although there has been speculation in the Cyprus press about his presence; the presence of Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will probably depend on whether Erdogan goes and the same probably applies to Britain’s PM Theresa May. The EU will be represented by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.
The UN has not given any details as to how the five-party conference would be conducted nor does anyone know when it will finish, even though it is very doubtful Erdogan, Tsipras and May, if they all attend, would be in Geneva for more than a couple of days. There have been reports that some issues that would have not been completely agreed could be referred to the conference, although some of our party leaders have insisted its agenda should be exclusively security and guarantees.
It is the familiar fixation with procedure, but Anastasiades should ignore it and grab the opportunity to engage Erdogan, or whoever the represents Turkey, in some give-and-take on unresolved issues, because there could be some concessions that Mustafa Akinci felt he did not have the power to agree to. For example, only Erdogan could sanction the return of Morphou without causing an outcry among the Turkish Cypriots. Of course, Anastasiades would have to make concessions on other issues, but this is how the process for reaching a compromise works and we hope the president has formulated a negotiating strategy based on what he wants to secure.
This is the first time, since the establishment of the Republic that the Cyprus president would be able to negotiate directly with Turkey’s government. It did not happen in 2004 in Burgenstock because our president was not interested in settlement but the unique opportunity offered this week should be seized by Anastasiades, even if the prevailing view in Cyprus government circles is that Erdogan is not interested in a settlement at present, because he did not want to alienate the nationalists in the Turkish parliament on whose support he was depending for his planned constitutional reform.
On Thursday we will have a much clearer picture of what will happen, even though, past experience has taught us not to entertain high expectations. Even the UN Special Envoy has suggested that the process could carry on after Geneva. But it will carry on only if there is some type of breakthrough at the five-party conference.