THE ONGOING speculation over who will represent the three guarantor powers at Thursday’s five-party conference has proved a welcome diversion from the Geneva talks, taking a little pressure away from the leaders for the time being. At present, nobody can safely say who will show up in Geneva on Thursday.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a few weeks ago said he would be attending the conference, but has not repeated this since then with press speculation now suggesting he will send Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. Reports from London and Athens indicated that Greece’s Alexis Tsipras and Britain’s Theresa May also will not be going if Erdogan decides to stay away. This would mean they will be represented by their respective foreign ministers, Nikos Kodzias and Boris Johnson.
Could this be a ploy by Turkey’s president, leaving Tsipras and May to stay away while he turns up at the last minute? This is unlikely as he is not the type of leader that would want to be dealing with foreign ministers. We suspect that Erdogan would not want to go to Geneva unless the two sides were within range of an agreement and the same is most probably true of the two prime ministers. If the conference is led to a deadlock, apart from the fact that it would reflect badly on the leaders of the guarantor powers, it would be very difficult to keep the process alive.
If the foreign ministers are debited with a possible failure, Tsipras and Erdogan would at least have the opportunity to step in and try to salvage the process, assuming they would want to do so. Yesterday there was a report in the British press claiming there was an option for the talks to reconvene in Geneva “in a couple of weeks” if there was no agreement this week, but the UN refused to be drawn into such speculation, insisting that preparations for the conference were ongoing.
The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, will be in Geneva on Thursday as an observer, regardless of who represents the guarantor powers. His presence will underline the EU’s support for a settlement and hopefully assist the process. But as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Espen Barth Eide said on Monday, the international conference will be productive only if the talks from January 9 to 11 are successful. The conference will take place even if the three days of talks fail to produce the desired results, but expectations will not be very high.
In such a case, it it’s probably be better if May, Erdogan and Tsipras are not there as a small opening for a future conference will be left.