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FACTDROP: End of road in sight in decades-old Cyprus dispute


End of road in sight in decades-old Cyprus dispute

Another round of reunification talks were held between Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders in Long Island.

Πηγή: Sundays Zaman
Nov 6 2011

This week’s talks between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders seem to have ended as usual in Long Island, New York, without any major progress being achieved.

Although United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters right after the two-day meeting, which ended on Tuesday, that the leaders made “some encouraging progress” on some core issues that he didn’t specify, he felt the need to add, “Much less progress was made in the important areas of governance, property, territory and citizenship.”

“So, just another round of talks” was the general perception of the Turkish public. This perception was also reflected by the attitude of the Turkish press, where the story did not make the front pages, much less the headlines, but rather the inside pages as a small piece of news. It could also be read as a sign of weariness given that the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides have been negotiating for many years. Part of the progress, Ban Ki-moon mentioned, consists of “some key issues, including the economy, European Union matters and internal aspects of security.”

According to the Zaman daily, the Turkish side will have one-quarter of the seats in the House of Representatives of Cyprus, while in the Senate, the Turkish and Greek sides will have an equal number of members. And in the event of a disagreement, in order not to allow the Greek majority in the parliament to upset the balance to the detriment of the Turks, a bill will be considered defeated when half of the Turkish members of the parliament reject it. As for the economy, it is claimed that Turkish and Greek sides will take turns at heading the central bank, but with no consensus on the duration of the Turkish side’s term in the presidency. Sources also say that a disagreement over the executive rule poses one of the major difficulties as the Greek Cypriots seem to have proposed a system of a rotating presidency under a cross and weighted voting system, while the Turkish side prefers a rotating presidency with a separate ballot for the Turkish and Greek sides.

“Discussions have been positive, productive and vigorous. Both leaders have assured me that they believe that they can finalize a deal,” Ban told journalists at the UN headquarters in New York, referring to the next phase of negotiations both sides are to enter in January 2012. But not everybody is as hopeful about the results as the secretary-general. Sinan Ülgen, the chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) and a former diplomat, does not hide his skepticism and goes on to explain his line of reasoning: “The main reason why there has been no major step towards an agreement at this round of talks is that Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias is in a difficult situation politically and has lost considerable power in domestic politics. So it’s very hard for him to conduct such important negotiations all alone and get support from other parties in the south of the island. This situation negatively influences the Cyprus talks. And it seems that the circumstances will not change in January, either. That’s why I’m not all that enthusiastic about the next round in 2012.”

Mustafa Kutlay, an analyst from the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), has a similar feeling about the fate of the process and points to the fact that the areas the secretary-general declared both sides had reached consensus on consist of those of secondary importance, such as internal security, European Union issues and economy. Noting that a similar consensus had been achieved in earlier talks on Cyprus as well, Kutlay said: “But the real knots to be dealt with if a solution to the Cyprus problem is being sought are the topics such as territory, property and citizenship. And as is clear from the statement of the secretary-general, no agreement has been reached on these topics. For this reason, I’m not hopeful about the prospects of an agreement at the negotiations in January.”

Ban said at the end of the negotiations that Greek Cypriot leader Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Eroğlu had agreed that further efforts are essential over the next two months to move to the end game of the negotiations. “I expect the internal aspects of the Cyprus problem to have been resolved [by then] so that we can move to the multilateral conference shortly thereafter.” But he failed to say what he would do, should the negotiations in January fail. This is another reason why Kutlay is not all that hopeful for a final agreement. “It’s not clear how the secretary-general will proceed in the case of failure, and such a negotiation process is not a binding one,” he says.

When the parties at the negotiating table are not bound by any calendar, they would naturally feel themselves free to drag the settlement talks out, because in such a system the negotiations can go on and on, as it already has in the case of Cyprus for nearly 40 years. But when there is a time limit, then the negotiations would either conclude positively, or in case of a failure in the negotiation process, the parties would then have to accept that they were not able to reach an agreement, and so a step towards an alternative solution could come on the agenda.

The Greek Cypriots seem to have no objection to a negotiation process that would go on endlessly. “The Cyprus problem is actually not a problem for the Greek Cypriots because they are the ones who are recognized internationally, as well as being a member of the European Union as the lawful representative of the whole island, and therefore enjoying all the benefits. So the status quo does not disturb the Greek Cypriot side,” Kutlay put it rather neatly.

The Turkish side has been stating for some time its displeasure with the Greek Cypriots’ attitude toward the negotiations. The Turkish side said “yes” to the Annan plan in 2004, but the Greeks said “no.” Still, they were allowed to reap the “rewards,” being admitted into the EU, while the Turkish side was kept suffering from not being recognized internationally. That’s why Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, pointing out that the Cyprus negotiations cannot possibly go on forever, said: “We have come to the end of the road in Cyprus. We are either going to overcome all the problems, making Cyprus an island of peace, or we, as the Turkish side, are going to take another path.” He made his remarks during a visit he made to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) on the anniversary of the Turkish intervention, on July 20, 1974, in Cyprus.

Eroğlu, the president of the KKTC, told the official Turkish Cypriot television station following the recent negotiations, “We are pleased with [Ban’s] words that we are proceeding towards the end of the process.” Referring to the secretary-general’s statement that an international four or five-way summit is to be held following the talks, he further added, “The fact that a summit will be held after the talks in January implies an end.”

The Turkish side wants the negotiations to be completely concluded before the Greek Cypriots take over the EU presidency in July 2012. Otherwise, Turkish-EU relations will also suffer. Erdoğan has said that Turkey will freeze its relations with the EU if the Greek Cypriots get the EU presidency before the Cyprus issue is settled.

Although diplomats said the “oil and natural gas issue” didn’t come up at the latest negotiations, the relations between the two sides have gotten tenser in recent months, with the Greek Cypriots drilling for oil and natural gas in the Mediterranean. Turkey and the KKTC, criticizing the Greek side for having engaged in a search for oil and natural gas as if they represented the whole of the island and warning at the same time that this would have adverse effects on the negotiations, also signed a continental shelf delimitation agreement on Sept. 22. And now Turkey is also searching for natural resources in the Mediterranean.

Both Ülgen and Kutlay stressed that during the negotiations to be held in January the Turkish Cypriot side should in no way give the impression of being “the one who left the table” and that the KKTC should not be seen as being responsible for an eventual failure in the negotiations. Ülgen believes that if the talks do fail, the KKTC, instead of going for full recognition as a state, should make do with the Taiwan model. Taiwan, may not be fully recognized internationally, but does trade freely with the rest of the world.

Turkey intervened in Cyprus militarily in 1974 after a Greek-inspired coup d’état seized power on the island in a bid to unite it with Greece. The United Nations has been trying ever since to reunite Cyprus. The conflict has also harmed Turkey’s attempts to join the EU, where the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government represents the whole island.

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