Less than a month from a critical conference expected to determine the fate of Cyprus negotiations, disagreement over participation is dominating the agenda of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots.
The Turkish Cypriot side says that the conference on 12 January in Geneva should include – in addition to the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides – the guarantor states and the European Union.
The Greek Cypriot side, however, is insisting that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France – as well as the Republic of Cyprus, are also present.
The sides are scheduled to meet in Geneva on January 9 to resolve outstanding issues of governance and power sharing, property, economy, EU and territory.
On January 12, guarantor states Turkey, Greece and the UK will join the sides in an effort to seal a deal on the contentious chapter of security and guarantees.
The demand to include the P5 “came out of nowhere”, a Turkish Cypriot source said.
“There is no such precedent. Never during 50 years of Cyprus negotiations were the P5 ever involved. Involving them would make the Cyprus problem part of much bigger negotiations in the region by big powers.”
Political analysts believe that the Greek Cypriot side, with the demand to include the P5 in the conference, may be seeking to create some kind of a balance between a strong Turkey versus a weak Greece.
In an interview with the Cyprus Weekly last week, UN envoy Espen Barth Eide said the planned ‘Conference on Cyprus’ in Geneva had taken inspiration from the 2004 Burgenstock conference, and that the UN, together with the two sides, had envisaged the participants to be the guarantor powers and the EU.
As for the participation of the P5, Eide was clear that the Security Council had a role to play not at the conference, but right after, when the outcome would be presented to it.
There is a need for consensus between the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots for the UN to be able to extend invitations to any potential participant.
While the debate on participation continues, chief negotiators Ozdil Nami and Andreas Mavroyiannis are meeting frequently in a bid to reach as many convergences as possible ahead of the Geneva conference in mainly the first four chapters.
Despite public statements, talks have not been progressing well with the Turkish Cypriot side accusing the Greek Cypriot side with tabling new positions on agreed issues, and the latter accusing the Turkish Cypriot side with being uncompromising.
As a number of internal and external factors will increasingly complicate efforts to solve the Cyprus problem in 2017, there is an urgent need for the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders to focus on the substance of negotiations rather than procedure, and reach a compromise on the issues of importance before it’s too late.