THE meeting of the two leaders last Friday lived up to the low expectations that both sides had expressed ahead of it. Nothing of substance was agreed by the leaders, apart from expressing their willingness to meet the UN secretary-general’s envoy Jane Holl Lute at the end of this month or early September to carry on the efforts to “configure the terms of reference” that would lead to the resumption of the talks.
Lute’s initiative, which was meant to have been completed in a few months, has been going on for almost a year without any sign of an agreement. After Friday’s meeting President Anastasiades said there were still “important differences on some issues”, that were presumably preventing agreement on the terms of reference. What are the chances that Lute will bridge these important differences in her next visit and finalise the terms of reference?
The incentive for the two leaders is a meeting with the UNSG Antonio Guterres in New York in September. Both had requested a meeting separately, but were informed by the UN that there should be something definite to discuss for Guterres to see them, otherwise there would be no point. It was a polite way of focusing minds as well as establishing whether the two leaders were sincerely committed to a resumption of the process, as Guterres was not prepared to offer them photo opportunities.
Both leaders touched on this issue after Friday’s meeting. Anastasiades spoke of a meeting between the leaders and Guterres to see how to proceed. Mustafa Akinci was more specific, saying there was now a roadmap ahead of the meeting with the UNSG. At their meeting “an effort will be made to draw a road map for later” he said and added: “As far as we can foresee it could lead to an informal even, five-party meeting.” This is assuming the leaders finalise the terms of reference with Lute when she is next here.
It is becoming clear that Guterres is not prepared to pander to the two leaders and allow them to toy with the procedure and engage in delaying tactics or the blame game. As he said, as he declared the end of the Crans-Montana conference more than two years ago, he would undertake a new initiative only when the two leaders indicated they were ready for a settlement. It therefore seems a bit misleading for Anastasiades to talk about the “resumption of the talks”, as if the two sides would enter another bout of open-ended dialogue.
If the two leaders agree on the terms of reference and meet Guterres in September, it is a roadmap for settlement they will be talking about and not a resumption of talks. Whether the required agreement will be reached is another matter.