The so-called common text to be drafted by UN Special Advisor Espen Barth Eide in consultation with all sides has become the new talking point of the peace talks. The document appears to have become an end in itself, with politicians and media reports on our side engaging in non-stop speculation about its content as if it were the be all and end all of the peace process rather than a formality before the Geneva conference.
This was to be expected after the acting government spokesman said on Friday on the announcement of the start date for the conference that if there was no text, “then we would not be able to go to Geneva.” Suddenly the content of the document became of vital importance and a possible excuse for avoiding attending the conference. But is a document on the procedure that would be followed a plausible reason for refusing attending a conference aimed at resolving all outstanding differences in the settlement talks?
The rational answer is ‘no’, but then again President Anastasiades had refused to go the conference because of disagreements over the procedure, changing his stance only after the personal intervention of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The drafting of common text, agreed at the dinner of the two leaders with Guterres in New York, was a concession to Anastasiades, who needed to save face given that the conditions he set for attending a Geneva conference would not have been met.
Now the date for the conference has been set it is very difficult to imagine Anastasiades wriggling out of it because of disagreement about the content of the document. Eide will arrive in Cyprus on Thursday to finalise the document, which, according to press speculation, would contain the positions of the two sides on security and outline the procedure of the conference. Logically speaking, there would not be much scope for disagreement or foot-dragging.
After all the position on security of each side is a starting point, a basis for negotiations, which could focus exclusively on this chapter, as Anastasiades had demanded. Concessions made in one chapter by one side could lead to a concession in another chapter by the other side. This was why it seemed unreasonable of Anastasiades to seek agreement on security before any other chapter was discussed. There is always the safeguard that nothing is agreed unless everything is agreed, the main principle of the talks.
Under the circumstances, a bland document outlining the procedure that would be followed should be adequate to pave the way for the conference.