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Our View: UNSG report suggests two sides moving apart

File photo: The two leaders in New York with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

The UN-backed peace efforts, which seemed to have reached the end, have been given a reprieve by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. In his report, delivered to the UN Security Council on Monday night, he said that his envoy Jane Holl Lute would resume consultations with the two sides in order “to gauge the true extent of convergence on key issues and the willingness of the two sides to incorporate novel proposals as part of an overall solution toward a common future that they themselves can envisage.”

For fully-fledged negotiations to resume “the sides should agree on terms of reference that would constitute the consensus starting point for a possible negotiated conclusion to the Cyprus issue”, he said. He also satisfied the conditions raised by the two leaders. He satisfied President Anastasiades by saying “the way ahead must be well prepared” and Mustafa Akinci by noting the “continued support for a horizon of endless process without result lies behind us.” He did not address the possibility of the preparations turning into an endless process.

Guterres’ report offers no justification for a new round of consultations. On the contrary, its observations suggest the two sides have been moving further apart, not prepared to show the slightest sign of goodwill. Of the 12 technical committees, established 10 years ago, three meet regularly, seven had not met in over a year and one of those had not met since autumn 2016. Confidence building measures agreed by the two leaders had made “scant progress”, he said, citing the agreement of 2015 for the opening of two crossings that have still not opened.

As he observed, “popular opinion in Cyprus since Crans-Montana generally reflected either apathy or discouragement with respect to a return to talks.” Even appeals to the leaders to take the initiative for a resumption of the talks were “sporadically heard,” voiced primarily by bi-communal groups. He also mentioned the bickering over some members of the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra playing in a festival in the north and over the opening of a beach in Famagusta exclusively for Turks and Turkish Cypriots.

None of this justified Guterres’ decision to ask Lute to carry out more consultations with the two sides, but the UNSG may know something we do not. Perhaps he was given assurances by the two leaders, in New York last month, of their commitment to having another go. Of course there is nothing to suggest that Lute will find the convergence on key issues that Guterres is seeking before ordering the start of fully-fledged negotiations. For Anastasiades this will not be a problem, because as he and his foreign minister made very clear before heading to New York the objective was to avoid a deadlock.

The objective has been realised, but nobody will have high hopes about what happens next.

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