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Our View: Open to question if ‘slow process’ will speed up

There were no major results after three full days of the conference on Cyprus although Friday’s proceedings, run by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, appeared to have made some headway. Guterres set a framework for discussing all pending issues, on which each side was waiting for the other to make the first concession, while also proposing the method in which the thorny chapter of security and guarantees would be addressed, with technocrats taking over.

It was not spectacular progress, but it offered some hope as both sides showed a willingness to follow guidelines set by the Secretary-General whose authority they seemed to have accepted much more readily than that of his Special Advisor Espen Barth Eide. In his public comments on Friday, Guterres was diplomatic and cautious, sticking to generalities although he also made a joke about the cultural gap between the ultra-rational northern Europeans and the emotional people of Mediterranean, who were nevertheless capable of being rational.

In Friday’s meetings, however, he pushed things forward, dismissing the pretexts used by the two sides, providing solutions to procedural problems and paving the way for the constructive engagement of the two sides with an agreed agenda from which neither would be able to deviate. The fact that he left Crans-Montana on Saturday morning and did not see the need for additional meetings on Saturday was an indication that he had achieved what he wanted by the end of Friday evening’s dinner and the participants would work within the framework agreed. There are no escape routes and the idea is that the negotiations would focus on how to achieve the main targets agreed with Guterres.

There is little doubt that Friday marked a turning point. Whereas in the first two days of the conference both sides made negative – at times inflammatory – public comments, fostering a climate of hostility, on Friday the war of words stopped. The contribution of the foreign ministers of Turkey and Greece were particularly unhelpful. Mevlut Cavusoglu’s remark that the Greek Cypriot side’s position of no guarantees and zero troops was “a dream they must wake up from” was uncalled for as was Nikos Kotzias’ dismissal of the Turkish side as blackmailers. Neither gave the impression they went to the conference with a constructive approach and a mood for compromise.

President Anastasiades, although a bit more restrained, also sent out negative signals when speaking to journalists during the first two days. On Friday all he said was that “it was a creative day, but this does not mean we have reached anywhere.” At least a creative day signified progress of sorts even though, as Guterres remarked, it was “slow progress.” Turkish press reports claimed that Cavusoglu was unhappy with the slow pace of the conference and the failure to deal with all issues as package.

This will probably happen at a later date, assuming adequate progress is achieved in the discussions that resume on Monday. But there were no deadlines, Guterres said, “because if we put a deadline, we would help create the conditions for the problem not to be solved.” It must have come as music to the ears of Anastasiades but it is unlikely the Secretary-General meant the conference would last three or four weeks. It is supposed to end on Friday but nobody knows whether all necessary work would be completed by then. If it is, Guterres and the prime ministers of the three guarantor countries would arrive in Crans-Montana to finalise the agreement.

Nobody who knows anything about the Cyprus talks would bet a cent on this happening by Friday. Things do not work like that in the Cyprus problem, which has been dragging for decades thanks to the expertise of both sides in stalling the procedure or causing deadlock. One Cyprus newspaper reported on Saturday that the “deadlock continues” even as the morning conference was taking place, because this is what everyone has come to expect. It is very difficult not to be cynical about the peace talks considering they have not produced a result in 50 years.

Will things be any different this time? There were some positive signs, and we suspect commitments were made in the presence of the UN Secretary-General by all sides but whether the “slow progress” recorded on Friday will be speeded up over the next week and arrive somewhere is open to question.

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