JANE Holl Lute, the envoy of the UN Secretary-General has left Cyprus and will be back towards the end of January or early February to carry on her meetings with the two leaders in what is increasingly looking like a futile attempt to get agreement on terms of reference that would supposedly lead to a resumption of the talks. Her mission is reminiscent of the old Cyprus problem circus, when envoys would keep visiting in an effort to get negotiations started, but get nowhere, because one of the two sides played hardball.
At least, back then, the envoys would hold news conferences and inform us about the difficulties they were encountering. Lute has adopted a completely different approach, saying nothing to the press after her meetings. According to some press reports, she says very little in her meetings with the two leaders as well, restricting herself to taking notes about the views she hears. The spokesmen of both leaders described her meetings as positive and constructive, which is no surprise, considering she is happy to record the views of Akinci and Anastasiades.
This slow-moving process is exactly what Anastasiades wanted. Not only does he not have to make any tough choices, but his oft-repeated position that there must be good preparation for any new talks has been embraced by the UNSG’s envoy who is taking her time. As one newspaper analyst wrote on Wednesday, “she has opted not set any time-frames and leaves long time periods between her visits, choosing to follow a slow path towards the talks.” The question of whether this slow path would ever lead to any talks is a moot point.
This will suit Anastasiades perfectly. Not only has he silenced his pro-settlement critics by engaging in a process, supposedly aimed at the resumption of the talks, but he is also keeping the hardliners quiet by keeping the process ticking over without committing to anything. The exploratory process could also be beneficial in that it might prevent the UN Security Council reviewing the presence of Unficyp, which is scheduled for next month. The review could be put back another six months, considering there is an attempt to resume talks.
Both sides are playing along, content to engage in Lute’s drive to draft the terms of reference for the new talks, and neither seems in a big hurry to see a result. If the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wanted proof that the two leaders were not committed to new UN-sponsored peace drive it has been provided but it seem even the UN is content to keep things ticking over without going anywhere.