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Cyprus talks: lost in translation

Chief negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis with President Anastasiades

By Costas Apostolides

The title of this article is not inspired by the successful film produced by Sofia Coppola and released in 2003, but by the state of affairs on the Greek Cypriot side in response to the gauntlet thrown down by the Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to get Cyprus peace talks started. Last Monday he called on both communities in Cyprus to agree to accept the framework proposed by the United Nations secretary-general for peace talks.

The phrase “lost in translation” was used in a radio interview by Diko leader Nicolas Papadopoulos who failed in the recently held presidential elections and is in the middle of a witch hunt against party members who did not support him. On Thursday he described the problem of deciphering what the Guterres framework was, given that it was put forward verbally to participants at the Crans-Montana conference on June 30 2017 by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Before proceeding to consider the UN framework, it should be noted that the Greek Cypriot side’s version is based on a note transcribed by the secretary-general’s then special advisor Espen Barth Eide, then corrected by the secretary-general, and transcribed again by the Greek Cypriot negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis. Mavroyiannis’ text is the one used by the Greek Cypriots.

Problems Oral Presentations

In my long involvement in the Cyprus problem I have always been against verbal presentation of positions, or important ideas, not backed by supporting documents. Verbal presentations are unfortunately often favoured, because it is felt that you can always deny that you said something when criticised or challenged. While for the listener you are dependent on the accuracy of the notes kept by a secretary or junior official, since in negotiations it is difficult to take accurate notes and simultaneously participate in the discussion.

An example of the type of problems that can be created was the difference of opinion between the secretary-general and the Turkish foreign minister on what was the Turkish government’s position at Crans-Montana, which had also been verbally presented. In response the secretary-general did not use his own notes on the Turkish position in his above report.

To get the Cyprus talks restarted the secretary-general should present a clear written statement of his proposed framework, including his non-paper on implementation of a Cyprus settlement given out at Crans Montana (but not discussed). The “non-paper” is useful because it offers solutions to some of the problems in the talks.

Greek Cypriot Confusion

The Greek Cypriot political leaders were thrown into confusion because Mustafa Akinci’s proposal for both sides to agree to restart negotiations on the basis of the Guterres framework provides a reasonable basis for the two leaders to demonstrate to the secretary-general that they are ready to negotiate. In which case negotiations should start again more or less where they were at Crans-Montana but structured according to the framework.

President Nicos Anastasiades has replied that in order to accept Akinci’s challenge for mutual acceptance of the framework, Akinci should explain what the position of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots is on security – Turkish troops in Cyprus – and guarantees, namely, the 1960 agreement on right of intervention of the guarantor parties, Greece, Turkey and the UK. Bear in mind though that the UN has never clarified that such interventions are contrary to the UN Charter.

Therefore, the first thing that needs to be clarified is whether the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are using the same text, since I am sure that Mavroyiannis’ text is not used by the Turkish Cypriots.

In the secretary-general’s report on his good offices mission in Cyprus (28/9/2017) there is a description of the framework, but it is not clear cut and not in the summarised form that has been presented in the press. Furthermore, the UN should clarify whether the non-paper on implementation is part of the framework.

The two wisest Greek Cypriot representatives that have been involved in negotiations, namely Alecos Markides, the former attorney-general and the chief negotiator under former president Glafcos Clerides, and Tomassos Tselepis the Akel expert on the Cyprus problem and in the Greek Cypriot negotiating team, have come out strongly in favour of accepting the challenge and agreeing for negotiations on the basis of the Guterres framework.

In contrast Anastasiades has yet to clarify his position. Given his movement away from the guidance of his mentor Glafcos Clerides, during the recent presidential elections, he is now in a difficult position, particularly since he has repeatedly stated that he is ready to restart the talks from where they stopped at Crans-Montana.

Framework is not a Settlement.

Part of the problem is that the secretary-general has set a “framework for discussion”. The problems have to be negotiated, the framework itself is not a settlement. For example, how can the issue of a rotating federal presidency be introduced under democratic conditions, and how can apartheid conditions be avoided for Greek and Turkish Cypriots who decide to live in the “other community”?

For progress to be made the following measures are required:

The principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed is confirmed.

The February 11, 2014 agreement on a bicommunal, bizonal and democratic federal constitution is confirmed.

The UN should present a complete and clear presentation of the Guterres framework.

The UN non-paper on how to implement a settlement should be included in the process.

If these measures are agreed then we should all welcome Mustafa Akinci’s initiative, which is in essence a brave effort to get the Cyprus talks going.

Costas Apostolides is a founder member of Pax Cypria Cyprus Institute for Peace

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