The negotiations process aimed at reunifying Cyprus under a federal umbrella have run into difficulty as the Cypriot sides seem unable to bridge the remaining differences between them, while guarantor powers Turkey and Greece enter a new period of increased tension.
Over the last 20 months, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades made important progress in governance and power sharing, property and territory, and almost completed the chapters of economy and EU.
A meeting in Geneva on January 12, which brought together the Cypriot sides and guarantor states Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom to find a compromise on the contentious chapter of security and guarantees, however, failed to produce a result.
With increased tension over Greece’s Supreme Court’s rejection to extradite eight Turkish military officers accused with involvement in the July 15 failed coup and reciprocal provocations over the islet of Imia/Kardak in recent days, Ankara and Athens are not likely to engage in a constructive dialogue over security in Cyprus.
And the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides have been finding it difficult to reach further convergences on the remaining most difficult issues – such as some aspects of political equality and who will have the right to return to their property – without knowing what will happen in the security chapter.
In a last-ditch effort to prepare the ground for a second international meeting in early March, with the participation of the guarantors, Akinci and Anastasiades will meet weekly this month. However, there is no clear plan yet as to how they will handle the outstanding issues.
“The leaders are trying to buy time and keep the process alive as they try to work out how to proceed,” a source close to the negotiations said.
“This time they have to go to the meeting with guarantors having reached maximum possible convergences.”
The UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, on the other hand, is set to engage in extensive shuttle diplomacy between Ankara and Athens in the coming days, in an effort to lay the groundwork for a compromise in security and guarantees.
Some political observers believe that the only way out of the current deadlock is for the sides to finalise all chapters independent of the security and guarantees chapter, and then put pressure on the guarantors to agree on security.
“Akinci and Anastasiades made the tactical mistake of deliberately leaving certain important issues open to keep them as bargaining chips at the table where security and guarantees would be discussed,” wrote Professor Niyazi Kizilyurek in Turkish Cypriot daily Yeniduzen.
“This was a grave mistake, as Turkey and Greece’s take on the Cyprus problem is very different from Turkish Cypriots’ and Greek Cypriots’… The only way out is for the leaders to go back to looking for the solutions in Cyprus… Akinci and Anastasiades have to reach an agreement in all chapters and create a draft solution…”
“Only after creating such a text and gaining the support of the world, should they knock on the door of Ankara and Athens. Otherwise, the agendas of Turkey and Greece will determine the future of the island.”
Observers agree, however, that prospects of reaching an agreement in the coming months have diminished substantially.
Akinci and Anastasiades only have a couple of months to find ways of removing the obstacles, getting the guarantors to compromise and reach an agreement before the process is hindered by the campaign period for the Greek Cypriot presidential elections scheduled for February 2018.
By the time elections are over and the sides can return to the table, many internal and regional developments may have already taken Cyprus into uncharted waters.