After a week of wall-to-wall Cyprob contacts on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, President Nikos Christodoulides is coming home with another pocket full of wishes and promises but no kick-start to a new round of talks.
There were two main goals from the New York contacts. One was the possibility of a joint meeting between the two Cypriot leaders with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The other was the push for the UNSG to appoint a Cyprus envoy.
According to Christodoulides after his 15-minute meeting with Guterres – his first as Cyprus president – on Friday evening local time, he was willing to stick around on Saturday if there was any possibility of a last-minute tripartite meeting that would include Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.
Guterres was to meet both Tatar and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on Saturday evening Cyprus time after the General Assembly wrapped up.
The chances of a joint meeting were slim to none from the outset however.
The UNSG told the president it was his wish to appoint an envoy but Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side declined. He had also issued an invitation to a joint meeting but that was declined as well. The new hope now is that it may take place at a later date since there is a standing invitation.
It’s hard to know what else Christodoulides was expecting given the stated positions of the Turkish side, before, during and after the New York contacts. Did he expect pressure would be put on Turkey to fall in line? This hasn’t yet materialised from the EU, despite our side’s constant prompting, nor has it come from the UN now either.
Guterres has made it clear on several occasions in his reports over the past couple of years that the UN would not facilitate a new effort until the two sides “find a mutually acceptable way forward”, in other words, an agreed basis for talks. Since the positions of both sides could not be further apart, any concrete result out of New York was always going to be a longshot.
Our side wants talks to pick up where they left off in Crans-Montana in 2017, still under a UN framework. The Turkish side wants equal sovereignty for the north before talks and wants to negotiate a two-state solution. And the UN, for its part, does not want to waste time and resources any more on failed Cyprus conferences that do not have at least a modicum of success so it is being ultra-cautious when it comes to new negotiations.
It was evident quite early in the week that there would be no conciliatory moves from the Turkish side. On top, a meeting between Guterres and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was cancelled. The Greek Cypriot media rumour mill suggested the UN cancelled it in order to avoid a clash with Turkey over Cyprus but it appears now it was related to Christodoulides’ own failure to follow through on certain things that might have given some ammunition to Guterres to nudge the Turkish side.
Christodoulides and his entourage had built up expectations ahead of the scheduled meeting, claiming it would be vital, but it never materialised. Our side then pivoted towards the appointment of an envoy. There was some optimism attached to the meetings with European Council President Charles Michele and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola who supported the move to appoint an envoy. EU officials do not generally meet the heads of member states during the UN General Assembly so it gave our side something to brag about, as did the support we got for an envoy from the UN Security Council.
Christodoulides, putting a positive spin on these few utterances of support, made sure to point out that Guterres had told him EU member states had raised the need to restart Cyprus talks because they were directly intertwined with “possible positive developments regarding EU-Turkey relations”.
But none of this translates into concrete action, least of all pressure on Turkey.
No doubt the various interlocuters in New York could all see that there was no budging a stubborn Erdogan on Cyprus. In his address he was clear that “a federation-based solution is no longer viable” and called on the international community to accept this.
Christodoulides was more conciliatory in his own speech, calling on Erdogan to “work together for peace”. It was also reported that this was the first year that a Cyprus president did not leave the room when his Turkish counterpart spoke, which was commendable but ultimately futile.
The president said on Friday night that “we are on the same page” as the UNSG. Perhaps, but without the Turkish side being on the same page, and without pressure being put on them, which in this case our side failed to follow through on that end, this year’s UN General Assembly junket can be added to all the others since 2017 as another pointless exercise in empty rhetoric.