AFTER a year of visits to the island, which culminated in last week’s six days of meetings with the two leaders, the UN Secretary-General’s envoy, Jane Holl Lute failed to secure an agreement on the terms of reference. She wound up her efforts on Friday with a ‘small informal reception’ for President Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, at which the two, according to the former, engaged in friendly chatter and banter. It is reassuring to hear that the two had not lost their sense of humour (or should we say of the absurd) and could still laugh with each other about the latest peace initiative fiasco they wholeheartedly contributed to.
For Anastasiades the failure to agree the terms of reference without Lute announcing the end of the initiative would be considered a victory because all he really wanted was a procedure, that led nowhere. Agreeing terms of reference was too risky as he could have been forced into a process with timeframes resulting in an international conference that would almost certainly be the end-game of the Cyprus peace process, one way or the other. Is it any wonder that when asked after Friday’s reception if he was disappointed, the president said “there is no disappointment, we don’t give up hope, there is an ongoing process”? Lute telling reporters at the reception that “this is an effort that is ongoing” must have been music to Anastasiades’ ears while Akinci did not seem too disappointed either.
Last Monday, after two days of meetings, Cyprus government sources were informing journalists that an agreement on the terms was imminent, but the mood changed a day later. Akinci was accused of trying to have new wording included in the final text of the terms, which was contrary to what he had agreed at his meeting with Anastasiades on August 9. One government source remarked that the final text would have gone from being half a page long to taking up one-and-a-half pages and this was not accepted by Anastasiades. The terms needed to be general and brief.
Press reports claimed that Akinci had changed tack on Ankara’s orders, while there was also speculation that he did not want to commit to terms because he was thinking about next year’s ‘presidential’ elections, which opinion polls suggested he had a good chance of winning. Perhaps he is now on the same wavelength as Anastasiades, happy to engage in a procedure that carries on aimlessly. Lute suggested as much on Friday when she said “both leaders have committed to continue the process,” as if this were a major achievement. After a year of visits, all she can report was that the leaders were committed to continue the process? Is agreeing the terms of reference a process or joke in which the UN is complicit?
Lute returned to New York and it was reported that the future of the process would be decided by her and UNSG Antonio Guterres. Would Guterres keep alive the joke, which consisted of little more than agreeing half a page (or one-and-a-half?) of text, referring to the two sides’ acceptance of the 2014 Eroglu-Anastasiades declaration, past convergences and the Guterres framework. It must have taken quite an effort by both leaders, after a year of discussions with Lute, to fail to agree on something so straightforward.
Rationally speaking, Guterres should pull the plug on the process, end the theatre and relieve Lute of her duties. He has given it a year to produce a result and all that was achieved was for the two sides assert their commitment to its continuation. Are these the actions of two leaders that want to reach a deal? Perhaps, he has not understood yet that the two sides have always been more committed to the process rather than an end result. A process allows them to play tough, be uncompromising, engage in theatre and blame the other side while steering clear of the tough decisions that are guaranteed to be unpopular and difficult to sell.
After more than 50 years of involvement with the Cyprus problem, we would have thought the UN Secretariat may have finally realised the two sides are only interested in the journey, so long as it never arrives at its destination. By facilitating such processes, without ever drawing a line, the UN has become part of the problem.