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Our View: Guterres is unlikely to take ‘no’ for an answer on Geneva

File Photo: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (centre) with the two leaders in January

THE UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was never going to allow two years of talks go to waste because President Anastasiades decided he no longer wanted to play peace process, having found a new game to play – re-election. The UN had invested far too much in the drive for a settlement to give it up, pack up and go home, as Anastasiades was pushing them to do. A peace process, which achieved very significant progress, could not be left at the mercy of an irresponsible and scheming politician that thinks he can switch it off when it does not suit his personal agenda.

We are certain this will be made abundantly clear to Anastasiades in New York tonight during his dinner with Guterres, Mustafa Akinci and Espen Barth Eide. And we very much doubt he will be given much room to manoeuvre or be offered an easy escape route. Eide has already implicitly blamed him for the impasse by repeatedly pointing out that the holding of an international conference in Geneva was up to the two leaders, as Greece and Turkey had both agreed to it. So had Akinci, which left Anastasiades, with his conditions about the procedure and criteria for progress as the only obstacle to a conference that aimed to finalise a settlement.

How would the president react if Guterres chose to turn the screw on him, warning him that he would be blamed for a collapse of the talks and that the UN would start preparations for the withdrawal of Unficyp from Cyprus? He might still be able to sell the idea that the talks collapsed because of Turkey’s intransigence to the gullible Greek Cypriots, but nobody outside the island would believe him or take him seriously. He would be regarded as just another untrustworthy Cyprus president who deceived the EU and the UN about his commitment to reaching a settlement. The prospective withdrawal of Unficyp, however, would have a big political cost for him on the home front.

Anastasiades most probably has the diplomatic support of Russia, which is opposed to a settlement, for his obstructionist tactics, but his resolve will be severely tested tonight in New York, because a Cyprus settlement, as we have argued in the past, is not just for the Cypriots. It is an integral part of the West’s strategic planning for the eastern Mediterranean, which has as one of its main objectives, preventing Turkey from falling under Moscow’s sphere of influence.

This was the reason former Vice President of the US Joe Biden visited the island, actively encouraged the peace efforts and described Cyprus as a strategic ally of the US. New Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, called Anastasiades and Akinci very soon after taking office to personally encourage them, because US policy would be helped by a Cyprus deal. It is also the reason the European Commission has been zealously supporting the process.

A Cyprus deal would pave the way for energy co-operation with eastern Mediterranean natural gas going to Turkey via pipeline and from there to Europe, reducing Turkey’s energy dependence on Russia. It would also remove any obstacles to the EU’s relations with Turkey, considered a valuable trading partner by Brussels, even more so after Brexit.

What is even more important to the West is that President Erdogan is also on board as he relishes the idea of Turkey being at centre of the West’s energy plans for the region. This goes some way in explaining Turkey’s unwavering support for a settlement and refusal to walk away, despite being given plenty of opportunities to do so by Anastasiades’ erratic behaviour. On Thursday foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu once again said Turkey was prepared to make changes to the guarantee system and discuss troops in Geneva.

There are no plausible arguments to support Anastasiades’ refusal to go to a Geneva conference at which there would be give-and-take (as he had agreed in the 2014 agreement) on all issues. Guterres is unlikely to take ‘no’ for an answer because the West would not stand for a self-serving Greek Cypriot politician with a personal agenda scuppering its energy and security plans for the eastern Mediterranean.

But even if the president is forced to play ball, this could hardly give rise to any great optimism. Could he be trusted not try to derail the process in Geneva? In the unlikely event that a deal was struck could he be trusted to sell it to Greek Cypriots or would he do what Tassos Papadopoulos had done in 2004? The awful truth is that Anastasiades is not only unpredictable and untrustworthy he is also totally lacking in the political courage required to undertake such a difficult project.

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