UN SECRETARY-GENERAL Antonio Guterres said last week he was committed to reviving the Cyprus peace process after the Turkish Cypriot elections, scheduled for early October. Rather than welcome Guterres statement, President Anastasiades immediately brought up the issue of Turkey’s provocations in the Cypriot EEZ, saying dialogue could only take place if these stopped.
Deputy government spokesman Panayiotis Sentonas elaborated on the government’s position, saying “Turkey’s illegal actions both in the EEZ and with what it mentions from time to time on the issue of Varosha, must cease,” because “we need to create an appropriate climate as we cannot negotiate under threat.” This has been the president’s line ever since Turkey began exploratory drilling in the Cypriot EEZ, with the climate having deteriorated because of the issue of Varosha.
This self-defeating approach is as old as the Cyprus problem, resorted to by the Greek Cypriot leadership all the time and sold to the public as a principled, patriotic stand. Nobody ever asks what these principled stands actually achieve. Does it bring us any closer to the withdrawal of the Turkish occupation troops? Does it pave the way for the return of refugees to their homes? Does it reunify the country? No, it helps Turkey achieve what we are constantly accusing it of trying to do – permanently partitioning the island and annexing the north.
Do we have any means to stop Turkey from opening and settling the fenced part of Famagusta without negotiations? Are we going to force the EU to impose sanctions as the government has been at pains to do in the case of Turkey’s illegal drilling in the Cypriot EEZ? The reality is that the European Union does not see sanctions as the way to mend its relations with Turkey. The German presidency of the EU appears to have already brokered talks between Greece and Turkey, aimed at resolving the seas dispute that brought them to the brink of a military confrontation.
Turkey’s violations of the Cypriot EEZ are not seen as a big danger for regional stability and the view of the EU, as well as of the US, is that the energy dispute in the eastern Mediterranean can be resolved by a settlement of the Cyprus problem. During his visit to Cyprus, eight days ago, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said: “Energy in the Eastern Mediterranean has an ability to bring states together. Regional cooperation is absolutely necessary for durable energy security, the creation of new markets, and economic prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Pompeo said resources “should be shared equitably among the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities”, before expressing the continued support of the US for a bizonal, bicommunal federation. Guterres has adopted the same position in his reports on Cyprus, which is an acknowledgment of Turkish Cypriot claims on the natural resources and, worse still, an admission that Turkey’s illegal actions were inevitable in the absence of a Cyprus settlement. This is also the thinking of the European Commission, although it is not aired in public.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s foreign ministry said that if a partnership state was still desired by the Greek Cypriots, then it should accept the political equality of the Turkish Cypriots, which Anastasiades not so long ago expressed serious reservations about. If this was acceptable, the two sides “should start a negotiation process over a two-state solution, on the basis of sovereign equality,” said the Turkish foreign ministry. This was interpreted by the government spokesman Kyriakos Kousios as an attempt by Turkey “to torpedo a new process before it has even begun”.
Was it or could it have been an attempt to find out what type of settlement Anastasiades wants? The Greek Cypriots do not know what their president actually wants. In private conversations he expresses a preference for a two-state solution, publicly he has brought up the idea of a confederation, while he has also said he would invite experts to tell us more about a federation, something that was never done. He has also argued that political equality would lead to a dysfunctional state, which would suggest he opposed a bizonal, bicommunal federation.
The only thing we can conclude is that he is very comfortable with the status quo, despite being constantly reminded it was unsustainable – Unficyp will not stay in Cyprus guarding the buffer zone in perpetuity. Anastasiades cannot keep avoiding dealing with the Cyprus problem, which he has done ever since the collapse of the process in 2017, content with the status quo. All indications are that there will be a new drive for talks and a settlement before the end of the year, because the consensus among our allies is that a settlement is the only way to ensure regional cooperation and durable energy security.
Anastasiades has a moral obligation to speak honestly and openly to Greek Cypriots about what his objective is regarding the Cyprus problem. If it is partition, he should have the courage to say so because people have a right to know what is being planned for their future. Their president has been keeping them in the dark for long enough.