Both leaders appeared satisfied with the lukewarm statement issued by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres after their dinner in a Berlin hotel on Monday evening. No commitment was asked of them other than to continue engaging in the futile attempts of agreeing the terms of reference that had failed to yield a deal after 15 months of proximity talks conducted by UN envoy Jane Holl Lute.
The proximity talks will continue in an attempt, according to the statement, “to achieve terms of reference to serve as a consensus starting point for phased, meaningful, and results oriented negotiations at the earliest feasible opportunity.” There is not even a time-frame, leading to the conclusion that the earliest feasible opportunity could be any time in the future – maybe next year or the year after that.
Guterres was optimistic because the two leaders, “motivated by a sense of urgency, agreed that achieving a comprehensive and durable settlement to the Cyprus problem within a foreseeable horizon is of utmost importance to the well-being of both communities.” The UN does not do irony, as a rule, but anyone following the Cyprus talks could have mistakenly thought Guterres was being ironic claiming the leaders were motivated by a sense of urgency.
Such is his faith in their sense of urgency, that he did not even dare mention anything remotely resembling a time limit, preferring vagueness such as the “earliest feasible opportunity” and a “foreseeable horizon” with regard to reaching an agreement. He did not even set an expiry date for the services of Jane Holl Lute, who will presumably carry on meeting the leaders, from time to time, in order to finalise the terms of reference.
In effect, Guterres carried out a maintenance job, giving his approval to the continuation of the proximity talks that would keep the process alive until April’s elections in the north. The message from Ankara was that any new initiative would have to wait until after the elections, when it hopes Mustafa Akinci would be voted out of office. This delay suits President Anastasiades as the peace process would keep ticking away without any pressure to take any major decision until next May; even the critics of his policies would have nothing to say.
In the end, the feared, permanent deadlock has been avoided, for a few more months at least, but it is still very difficult to share the cautious optimism expressed by some quarters, because “a window of hope” has opened again. The window will probably stay open for a few more months, but that is all that can be said after the Berlin meeting.