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Not yet time for Euphoria on Cyprus

By on May 18, 2015
Endy Zemenides

Endy Zemenides

After a dinner with President Nicos Anastasiades of the Republic of Cyprus and Mustafa Akinci – the new Turkish-Cypriot community leader – the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Cyprus Espen Barth Eide announced the resumption of negotiations for the reunification of Cyprus with this:

Tonight’s dinner between the two leaders, Mr. Anastasiades and Mr. Akinci, accompanied by their negotiators, Mr. Ozdil Nami and Andreas Mavroyiannis, and together with SRSG Lisa Buttenheim and myself, was conducted in a very positive atmosphere.

The two leaders developed and shared their vision for the future of Cyprus, in the spirit of the Joint Declaration of 11 February 2014. They agreed that it was important to use the momentum created, and this new opportunity to move forward without delay.

The leaders expressed their strong commitment, joint commitment, to move forward in a constructive and dedicated manner, and for that reason they agreed to hold the first leaders’ meeting on Friday, 15 May, to go through a general exchange of views and to agree on the modalities for the structuring and frequency of the meetings.

I want to add from my side that I think this is a unique opportunity, an opportunity that will be grasped, and it is truly rewarding to work with two leaders with such a strong commitment to seeing a shared challenge that can only be solved through shared effort, to find a shared solution. I very much look forward to the continuation. As you have understood, we will start working, and working hard, already in the morning on 15 May, this coming Friday.

A new, more positive atmosphere has emerged since the defeat of Turkish-Cypriot hardliner and obstructionist Dervis Eroglu. Mr. Akinci has a history of successful collaboration with Greek-Cypriots, in particular on the Nicosia Master Plan and the Nicosia Sewarage Project. He has made encouraging statements, and has already experienced his first rift with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan. The Anastasiades government executed unilateral Confidence Building Measures to signal its enthusiasm over working with Akinci.

This new sense of euphoria could fast become contagious, so maybe we should step back for a minute and ask what the obstacles are to this “new opportunity”:

1 – Turkey

As hard as some have tried to reduce the resolution of the division of Cyprus to a bi-communal problem, the 800 pound gorilla is and has always been Turkey. Greeks and Turkish Cypriots will have to make tough compromises on federalism, power-sharing and property, but there is plenty incentive to do so and theoretically enough options on each of these issues for a solution to be envisioned.

The red-line comes in the form of Ankara’s insistence to retain some sort of overlordship in Cyprus.  Turkish apologists on Cyprus consistently point to the rejection of the ill-conceived Annan Plan in 2004 as “evidence” that Greek Cypriots don’t want a solution, but they fail to point out the Plan’s fatal flaw: it formally gave Turkey a role in Cyprus.

Unlike the Annan Plan, the next plan to reunify Cyprus has to renounce “guarantor” status to any power (Greece has already declared that it doesn’t want it), has to provide for the immediate withdrawal of all Turkish occupation troops, and it has to prohibit Turkish intervention in Cypriot government or politics. To date, Turkey has not even signaled its willingness to concede any of these three points.

Cyprus’ sovereignty and independence will be an even bigger issue than they were in 2004; hydrocarbons in Cyprus’ EEZ guarantee this.  Extracting Turkey from Cyprus is more complicated than simply physically removing troops.  Given Ankara’s hostility towards Israel and Egypt, how will Cyprus’ new regional relationships come into play?  The greatest single question to be answered on Cyprus is whether Turkey will tolerate a fully independent Cyprus, fully rooted in the Western security structure and allied with Israel and Egypt.

2 – The Players

Anastasiades and Akinci will constantly be driving this process.  Erdogan will be a wildcard throughout the process.  The Greek Cypriot negotiator, Andreas Mavroyiannis, has constantly moved forward, despite having to deal with his third counterpart in two years.

Which brings us to Ozdil Nami. He reclaims the Turkish-Cypriot negotiator role which he held during the Christofias/Talat negotiations. Yet in the last year – as the “foreign minister” of the unrecognized state in occupied Cyprus he constantly took positions (challenging Cyprus’ sovereignty) and engaged in behavior (newspaper and think tank tours promoting the pseudo-state) that certainly did not help the process along. The Berkley educated Nami is polished – and undoubtedly harbors ambitions of being the Turkish-Cypriot honcho in a reunified Cyprus – but I haven’t seen where he has been “helpful” to the reunification process.  What I have seen is Nami being disingenuous. As part of a 2009 fact finding mission led by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, I was dumbstruck by Nami’s response to then Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias’ question on why Turkey maintained a 40,000 strong occupation force. Nami argued that the force was necessary because if you armed every Greek-Cypriot with reserve status that is how many troop the Republic of Cyprus would have. If Nami repeats that type of nonsense, or any of the jibberish he paid The Washington Times to print in a special advertising section last year, he will do nothing but undermine the negotiations.

All this makes the role Espen Barth Eide plays even more important. The former Norwegian Foreign Minister who is now a member of the World Economic Forum has a calm demeanor and an expertise in issues that are relevant to these negotiations.  He clearly has the confidence of the Secretary General and of the United States government.  He is well placed to play the role of honest broker.

He was dealt a tough hand upon assuming his role in Cyprus as Turkey launched an incursion into Cyprus’ EEZ and forced the Anastasiades government to abandon negotiations.  However, he did not acquit himself well – his attempts to establish equidistance from both communities only emboldened Turkey.

Eide stands to benefit from the “reset” in this process.  Several stars may be aligned, but if Eide continues to minimize the unhelpful stances of Turkey, he will fast lose credibility.

A special opportunity may indeed exist today on Cyprus, but great care must be taken to make sure that opportunity is realized.  When it comes to the actions of Turkey, Nami and Eide over the last year, we have witnessed nothing but missed opportunities.  It is now time for them to give us more reason for hope.

About Endy Zemenides

Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), a national advocacy organization for the Greek American community. To learn more about HALC, visit www.hellenicleaders.com