NICOSIA – Despite decades of dashed hopes and false starts, Cyprus – divided since an unlawful Turkish invasion in 1974 – could be reunified this year, its rival leaders said.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, who began talking a year ago and have seen the negotiations falter as did all others before them, now believe they can close the deal.
They met at a United Nations compound on June 8 to outline the points they agree and disagree on before launching the stepped-up talks.
Anastasiades said this would help make talks more productive by focusing efforts on tackling disagreements in forging a federation.
It was their first meeting after Anastasiades paused the talks over a perceived bid to diplomatically upgrade the island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot north.
The Turkish invasion in the wake of a 1974 coup aiming at union with Greece carved Cyprus along ethnic lines and it remains divided, with Turkey keeping a 35,000-man standing army in the northern territories it occupies and refusing to recognize Cyprus – a European Union member – while barring its ships and planes while seeking entry in the bloc.
Anastasiades and Akinci, moderates unlike hardliners who preceded the, understand the need to end the “unacceptable status quo and reunify Cyprus as a federal state and that’s important in itself,” Cyprus government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides said before the the two leaders resumed negotiations.
Cyprus has the upper hand with only Turkey recognizing its self-declared Republic, which has lagged economically and is desperate to get into the EU and reap the benefits of subsidies and other economic goodies.
The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are assisting in the talks, providing technical support on topics including fiscal policy within a reunited Cyprus and estimating economic consequences of reunification, the Bloomberg news agency said.
Both institutions stress that a federal government must be able to function and not be burdened financially, Christodoulides said last week in an interview in Nicosia, Europe’s only divided capital.
“Our aim is to reach a comprehensive settlement, in line with European Union law, values and principles, as soon as possible, and if feasible within 2016,” Christodoulides said, showing a softening, if only temporary, of Anastasiades’ recent pessimism.
Christodoulides said both sides should strive to discuss all aspects of the chapters of governance, property, economy and the EU in order to start discussions on issues related to chapters of territory and security and guarantees, he said.
The UN office in Cyprus said after the two met and talked – no details were released – that they agreed to work together, repeating a mantra that has been broken repeatedly. They will meet twice a week beginning June 17 to resolve remaining issues “in an agreed structured manner,” according to the statement, diplomatic boilerplate designed not to reveal what they are discussing.
Christodoulides said any new plan would need to include all the components of a settlement, including what Day One of reunification would look like and the financial viability of the federal state, Bloomberg said.
The two have talked about a bi-zonal federation in which the island would still essentially be split but governed together and with the prospect of a Turkish leader alternating as President, upsetting Cypriot hardliners who pointed out the irony of having a Turkish leader at the same time Turkey won’t even recognize the country it would be part of.
THE DEAD ANNAN PLAN
The only other time Cyprus came close to a settlement solution was in 2004 with the UN-brokered blueprint for a bi-communal federation that was accepted by Turkish Cypriots and rejected by Greek Cypriots.
“We want to avoid repeating the mistakes made then, which led to the ‘No’ vote,” Christodoulides said without indicating how many concessions would be made to woo Turkey to go along this time.
“Turkey’s role to the process is not only necessary but vital so as to reach a settlement,” he said, without mentioning that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has the last word and has threatened to take over the talks if he doesn’t like the way they’re going.
“We hope and expect that the verbal assurances by Turkey of its desire to reach a settlement will be at last tested in practice; through, among others, rendering its unequivocal encouragement and support to the leader of the Turkish-Cypriot community, and adopting concrete steps that will decisively contribute to the negotiating process,” Christodoulides said in the language critics have blistered as political platitudes.
Bloomberg said he’s said he’s hoping for common sense to prevail in Turkey. Turkish membership talks with the EU have been restarted as part of an agreement to control the flow of immigrants, but some chapters of the talks are blocked by Turkey’s refusal to recognize Cyprus,” he added more positively.