Sunday 27 November 2016

World steps in to save talks

Esra Aygin

The international community is pulling out all the stops to save the Cyprus negotiations, with high profile visitors from the UK and elsewhere expected in the coming days. 

Major international actors from the UN to the EU and the US, have already made moves this week to restore momentum and encourage Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades to get back to the table.

The two leaders have taken calls from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US Vice President Joe Biden encouraging them to continue their efforts. The Republic of Cyprus government spokesman announced calls to Anastasiades from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council, European Commission ad European Parliament, to name a few. 

UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor in Cyprus Espen Barth Eide is due to arrive in Cyprus on Sunday to meet with the two leaders separately and to try and arrange a get together to decide on how to continue the process.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited the island on Friday for consultations with Akinci, while UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is scheduled to visit Cyprus early next week. Other high-profile officials are also understood to be planning a visit to revive the momentum. 

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a written statement on Wednesday expressing "disappointment" and calling on the leaders to continue their efforts in line with their earlier shared commitment to do their utmost in order to reach a settlement in 2016. 

“The disagreement between the sides is not over substance, but over sequencing and modality,” a diplomatic source told the Cyprus Weekly. “In a process that run relatively smoothly without any serious crises in the past 18 months, such setbacks are normal in the most difficult final stages.”

Fear of blame game
Ban also urged all parties “to avoid any statements and actions that would make the resumption of talks more difficult.” 

Certain statements especially by Akinci’s spokesperson Baris Burcu have raised concern that they could hurt public sentiment and derail the process. Diplomatic sources say that a blame game would hurt the negotiations more than this setback. 

“The problem in the talks is fixable, but extreme messaging can become a prophecy in itself,” a source told the Cyprus Weekly. “Tense atmosphere of talks, which is natural at the final stages, should not be taken outside the negotiation room.”

Returnees and territory 
The two Cypriot leaders were in the Swiss Alpine resort of Mont Pelerin earlier this week to decide on the criteria for territorial adjustments that would take place in the case of a solution: the percentage of territory to be subject to territorial adjustments, the number of displaced Greek Cypriots to return to the areas subject to territorial adjustments, and the total area of coastlines. There were high expectations for success as the two sides had already come very close in agreeing the criteria in the first round of talks in the same place earlier this month.

Akinci and Anastasiades had agreed that the Turkish Cypriot constituent state would make up between 28,2% and 29,2% of the total area of Cyprus. However, the talks ended without result when the two leaders could not overcome disagreement over the number of displaced Greek Cypriots who would return to the territorial adjustment areas. This number is an indicator as to how much urban land in areas like Morphou would be returned. The Greek Cypriot side insisted on a range of 78,000-92,000 returnees to secure the return of Morphou, while the Turkish Cypriot side kept the lower number of the range at 65,000 - which leaves Morphou out.

The Turkish Cypriot side does not want to make a commitment about Morphou just yet, as it is the biggest bargaining chip at hand for the final conference, where the grand give-and-take between the most sensitive issues, including security and guarantees would take place.

“The Greek Cypriot side, while holding as a trump card, issues like rotational presidency and effective participation in decision making mechanisms, which would provide for the political equality of the Turkish Cypriots, is attempting to finalise the territory chapter in its own favour and eliminate the Turkish Cypriot side’s bargaining power,” Akinci said on his return from Switzerland. “There is one thing the Turkish Cypriot side can give. And that is territory.”

Anastasiades, during a televised press conference, on the other hand, said that the Turkish Cypriot side was attempting to link the territorial issue with security and guarantees, and said this was unacceptable. 

Akinci however, insisted that there was an understanding between the sides that all issues including security and guarantees are to be discussed interdependently.

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