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Our View: Complete waste of time for Guterres to appoint envoy

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres delivers the opening address at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

After Monday’s meeting with Ersin Tatar and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, President Anastasiades said he expected an announcement by the following day about the appointment of an envoy for the Cyprus problem. No announcement was made on Tuesday or Wednesday fuelling media speculation that the Turkish side had blocked this because it disagreed with the proposed remit of the envoy.

Reports suggested that while the Cyprus government wanted the appointment of a ‘representative’ accountable to the UN Security Council, the Turkish side wanted a ‘special envoy’, like Jane Holl Lute who stepped down recently, because they would be under the authority of the secretary-general. Ironically, the last two UN special representatives, Alexander Downer and Espen Barth Eide had both been targeted by Anastasiades and left on bad terms with his government.

There were also questions about what this envoy’s mission would be. Tatar wanted them restricted to dealing with specific issues such as confidence-building measures and ‘good neighbourliness’, in line with his two-state objective, whereas Anastasiades wanted them to facilitate a resumption of the talks, presumably for a federal settlement.

So why had Anastasiades expected the UNSG to make an announcement given the gulf separating him with Tatar about the representative’s/envoy’s mission? Had he misunderstood what was said at the meeting? The big question is why would Guterres appoint an envoy/representative when the two sides cannot agree what their mission will be?

The failure of his envoy, Jane Holl Lute, to break the deadlock for over two years was well-documented and crystallised at the informal conference in Geneva earlier in the year, at which the two sides confirmed the deadlock. Given this context, it would be a complete waste of time and resources for the UNSG to appoint an envoy to try to bridge the difference of two sides heading in opposite directions.

Perhaps the Cyprus government’s fear is that failure of the UNSG to appoint anyone would signal the beginning of the end of UN involvement in Cyprus. If Guterres decides there is no point in having a representative, the next step might be to close down the UN mission and withdraw the peacekeeping troops. There would be no justification for the UN presence when there is no chance of the two sides agreeing a deal. And after more than 50 years of failed peace efforts, nobody could blame the UN for finally leaving Cyprus.

Nobody has mentioned this possibility recently, but it is the direction in which things are heading.

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