This time around, the push for resolution comes from inside Cyprus.
For the first time since the Turkish invasion of 1974, the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities both have moderate pro-resolution leaders. With assistance from the UN, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci have spent two years discussing the complex web of issues dividing the two communities: the land area each will occupy, the constitutional setup of the reunified Cypriot state, the return of Greek refugees to areas occupied by Turkey, and the compensation for loss of property. In the latest round of negotiations in Switzerland there were still disagreements, but it seems both sides are willing to find a compromise.
Unlike previous resolution pushes, negotiations have advanced despite lack of international attention.
The external actors who have traditionally played a role in the Cyprus question have had little time, interest or political capital to spend on an agreement. The US is in the midst of a messy presidential transition, although the Obama administration pushed both sides on the island to maintain momentum. Turkey and Russia are engaged in their joint peace initiative in Syria and want to avoid entanglement in a low-priority issue where their interests mostly clash. Even the UN is undergoing a transition, and its new secretary general, Antonio Guterres, may not want to expedite a resolution over which he would have little ownership. Paradoxically, relative international indifference may have cleared the way for Anastasiades and Akinci to pursue their joint agenda.
The EU and the UK have played a largely passive role.
Much as it would like to be credited with a diplomatic success, the EU has had little influence over the process until now, given its complicated relationship with Turkey. This contrasts sharply with the peace plan agreed upon in 2004 (which was rejected in a referendum) that was closely tied to Cyprus’s impending EU membership and Turkey’s candidate status. Last week Jean-Claude Juncker and Federica Mogherini, who attended the talks, could offer little besides €3 billion in financial support for reunification. The old colonial power, the UK, has also been largely silent, deferring until now to the momentum generated by Anastasiades and Akinci. The UK’s role may increase as discussion has shifted to the question of Cyprus’ security status. According to the 1960 agreement, the UK is, like Greece and Turkey, a ‘guarantor power’ of Cyprus.
Agreement on the future security status of Cyprus will determine the success of the talks.
Negotiations between Cypriot political leaders and foreign ministers of the guarantor powers were interrupted last week to allow a working group of civil servants and experts to discuss the future security status of Cyprus. The emphasis on security ‘guarantees’ is a novel development in relation to previous negotiations, and it is largely due to a new approach in Greek foreign policy introduced by its activist foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias. His claim is that any solution must be based on the termination of Cyprus’s ‘anachronistic status as a country under the security guarantees of foreign powers’. This is a coded way of saying that Greece will only assent to any reunification plan if there is an agreement on the swift departure of most of the 30,000 Turkish troops stationed in Northern Cyprus. According to media reports, Kotzias’s insistence on the termination of guarantees as a precondition for resolution has alienated him from Anastasiades, who fears that disagreement over this issue, as well as Kotzias’ abrasive style, may derail the talks.
The road to the reunification of Cyprus passes through Athens and Ankara.
Publicly all sides stick to the position that, once talks between diplomats and experts conclude on Friday 18 January, a new political meeting will be convened, which will include the prime-ministers of Greece and Turkey. The focus on security however has put pro-solution Cypriot leaders at the mercy of a potential impasse between Greece and Turkey. The domestic political environment in Greece and Turkey is not particularly conducive to an agreement. The Greek government is implementing its third painful austerity package in a row and has little room to sell a compromise to the Greek public. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also relies on a small nationalist party for parliamentary support. Recep Tayyip Erdogan meanwhile is recovering from a failed military coup and is planning the transition to a presidential system, so he cannot afford to alienate nationalist votes. His public statements last week, when he promised that Turkey ‘will be in Cyprus forever’, reveal as much.
The desire of Cypriot leaders for resolution, and Greece and Turkey’s desire to avoid taking the blame if talks fail, could lock all parties into a dynamic of negotiation that will produce an agreement. At present however an impasse, on either the bureaucratic or the political level, feels much more likely.
Angelos Chryssogelos holds a BA in Politics from the University of Athens (2004), an MA in International Relations and Diplomacy from Leiden University (2008), and a PhD in Political Science from the European University Institute in Florence (2012)