The Cyprus issue was resolved in Crans-Montana, but the public was never told
By Makarios Drousiotis
In Crans-Montana, Switzerland in July 2017, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held the final meetings aimed at paving the way for a final negotiation to solve the Cyprus problem. After decades of talks and failed efforts, the Cyprus problem, on paper at least, was almost solved. The thorniest chapter still pending was that of the guarantees and the UNSG’s Special Envoy, Espen Barth Eide, worked out various formulas for abolishing them.
Turkey, which had always refused to discuss the issue of guarantees, entered this process because the benefit from a Cyprus settlement was at that moment greater than the cost of a non-solution. Of course, this did not mean that Turkey would decide to withdraw its army from Cyprus overnight, but she would negotiate this in order to secure its interests. This was what the Greek Cypriot side should have sought, its gains depending on its negotiating skills. Given that the opponent was politically more powerful, it should have pursued synergies with stronger players who had an interest in a settlement. As usual, the Greek Cypriot leadership acted self-destructively, accepting the influence of forces opposed to a settlement such as Russia, and in effect refused to negotiate.
President Nicos Anastasiades went to Crans-Montana grudgingly: his sights were set on his re-election. On the eve of his departure, instead of consulting with advisors and defining a negotiating strategy, he called a meeting at the presidential palace to plan his election campaign, eight whole months before the presidential elections. For his flight to Switzerland he borrowed a Boeing jet from a Saudi Arab ‘friend’ and filled it with politicians and lawyers who specialise in searching for ‘traps’ in the legal texts of the Cyprus issue.
When it became apparent in Crans-Montana that Turkey would budge on the issue of guarantees, Anastasiades, instead of putting forward his demands, met secretly with Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglou and proposed a two-state solution so he could rule the south for another five years.
At 4.30pm on July 6, 2017, Guterres met Cavusoglu who presented him with a non-paper with his country’s position on guarantees. Cavusoglu told the UNSG that Turkey would accept the abolition of the Treaty of Guarantee, including the unilateral right to military intervention, if there was an agreed mechanism to implement an agreement. Apart from the Treaty of Guarantee, which Turkey activated to invade Cyprus in 1974, there is also the Treaty of Alliance under which military contingents from Greece and Turkey were deployed on the island in 1960. Turkey’s position in Crans-Montana as understood by Guterres was that she would not accept the simultaneous abolition of the guarantees and the full withdrawal of the Turkish troops (‘zero guarantees and zero troops’ was, however, not a starting point). Turkey was prepared, however, to discuss the issue of troops and a possible clause for a full withdrawal at a news conference in which the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey would be present.
Turkey’s position was that the abolition of the guarantees would be accepted as part of a comprehensive package and not piecemeal. What Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots wanted to get in return was the political equality of the two communities. Guterres had already submitted bridging proposals to the parties on all open issues codified as the “Guterres framework”, which both sides give assurances even today that they accept. The outstanding issues were therefore not unresolved. The main thing pending before an agreement was announced was a formula for guarantees. The UNSG prepared a plan for a mechanism for implementing the settlement that would replace the Treaty of Guarantee. It would be an instrument under the responsibility of the UN and would report to the UN Security Council.
After Cavusoglu, Guterres met Greece’s foreign minister Nikos Kotzias, who had made abolishing the guarantees a top priority. Guterres told Kotzias that his strategy was for Anastasiades to be compromising on domestic issues so that Turkey would move on the issue of guarantees. Turkey, he told Kotzias, was not ready to immediately accept the withdrawal of all troops but did not rule it out. This was why it was necessary to close all issues (as outlined in the “Guterres framework”), said Guterres, so the withdrawal of troops would be referred to a new meeting with the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey, stressing that there was an opportunity to abolish the guarantees.
Kotzias replied that if the guarantees were abolished, the Greek prime minister would be open to such a meeting. He noted that the troops to remain until the next stage should be within the framework of the Alliance Treaty, namely, 650 Turkish soldiers. Guterres told him the give-and-take would depend on Anastasiades’ stance.
After the meeting Kotzias immediately met Anastasiades’ closest associate, the then government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides, and told him that his mission had been successfully completed and he would inform the prime minister. Christodoulides, who was handling Anastasiades’ strategy of aiming for a collapse of the talks, urged Kotzias not to rush to commit the Greek prime minister and to wait instead for Anastasiades to wake up and speak to him first. The reason Guterres was to meet Anastasiades last was because the whole conference schedule had been organised around the need for Anastasiades’ need for an afternoon siesta.
At their meeting Guterres informed Anastasiades that abolishing the guarantees was possible. As Christodoulides, who was present, admitted later, when Anastasiades heard this he “went into a panic” and said he did not believe Turkey would agree to their abolition. He rejected the implementation mechanism that would replace guarantees and, making things even more difficult, said he would not accept any agreement that did not ensure the withdrawal of all troops.
When Guterres pointed out that he had to agree to abolishing the guarantees and that the issue of troops could be resolved at the prime ministerial level, Anastasiades replied that this was not the job of the prime ministers, because it did not affect their countries. Immediately after this meeting, Anastasiades met Kotzias and discouraged him from giving his consent for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to come to Crans-Montana. He then went to the dinner hosted by Guterres as a last gasp attempt to save the process, but the host could not prevent its collapse.
The lesson from this is that history is written by leaders who have courage, vision and the insight to recognise big opportunities and capitalise on them. The Cyprus problem has produced countless collapsed processes, but in 2017 things were different. The status quo survived for many decades because it suited all sides. This balance was upset the moment Turkey realised that its interests would be served by a settlement.
In Crans-Montana conditions were in favour of Anastasiades. He could have secured the withdrawal of the Turkish army. Today he is dealing with the prospect of it staying. Turkey is now trying to force developments and is citing the Treaty of Guarantee – that remained in place – in order to lay claim to half our EEZ on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots.