By Andy Dabilis
After nearly 38 years of fruitless negotiations seeking to reunify Cyprus, Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders have been told by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to find a solution by July 1st. But very few believe that can happen before the Greek Cypriot side assumes the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, an event that will effectively freeze any negotiations well into 2013.
The Cyprus talks have been stuck in a rut, with embattled President Demetrios Christofias facing domestic problems and plummeting popularity, unable to make any headway in negotiations with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Dervis Eroglu, over core issues such as property and shared governance.
“The secretary-general wants to put an end to this misery,” Ahmet Sozen, director of the Cyprus Policy Centre in Famagusta, on the Turkish side of the island, told SETimes.
“He needs to take decisive steps instead of just saying the two sides need to intensify negotiations. That doesn’t mean anything,” Sozen said.
Christofias and Eroglu met on Long Island, New York, earlier this year, but progress has been slow in the negotiations that began in September 2008 between Christofias and then Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.
Now Eroglu says he agrees with a suddenly pessimistic UN envoy, Alexander Downer, who says talks would end in June, blaming the Cypriots. “Even if you give them [Cypriots] the entire Cyprus, you cannot satisfy them,” the news agency ANSAmed reported the envoy as saying.
Ban, who has set previous deadlines that have come and gone, seemed just as downcast recently. “The current window of opportunity is not limitless and there is little to suggest that the future will bring more propitious circumstances for a settlement,” he said.
Downer is set to submit a report to Ban that Sozen says will indicate talks will either collapse or should be suspended. That would push negotiations into 2013, after Cyprus ends its EU presidency.
Adding to the pressure has been the tough stance taken by Turkey, which has threatened to cease co-operating with the EU in a number of fields once Cyprus takes over the EU presidency.
Cyprus — whose ships and planes are not allowed into Turkey – has repeatedly stymied Turkey’s EU accession process, frustrating policy makers and the public.
Thanos Dokos, director of the Athens-based think tank Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), told SETimes that Turkish leaders remain reluctant to give any ground.
“There is a solution, but the dynamics are slow. There is no motivation or pressure,” he said. “Turkey feels it has no reason to show good will.”
Christofias has been weakened since the explosion of stored munitions last year and Eroglu is less willing to concede anything, he says. “He’s taking instructions and following the lead from Ankara,” noted Dokos, likening the current situation to a Cold War.
“It’s awkward and unpleasant. There’s no real fighting between the sides so the great powers can afford to leave it aside,” he said.
Stavros Karkaletsis, head of the Athens-based Hellenic Centre for European and International Analyses, also says nothing is likely to be resolved.
“Ban is trying to bring a final settlement because Christofias knows after this there is no settlement,” he told SETimes. “Christofias is going to lose this game if he brings this solution to a referendum. There will be more negative voices than the Annan Plan,” he said.
He says Christofias has offered to let the Turkish Cypriots share a rotating presidency for Cyprus, and is so insistent on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation that he’s willing to make concessions that many Cypriots vehemently oppose.
Still, despite the intransigence on all sides, Sozen says that both Greek and Turkish Cypriot residents ultimately want to end the dilemma.
Pointing to a survey he is preparing to submit to the UN, he says that while 70% of Cypriots on both sides believe the talks will fail, the same number want them to succeed. “They don’t want to leave the burden to the next generations.”