High hopes now for a solution in Cyprus? Deeds, not words

Turkish and Greek Cypriots on the long-divided island of Cyprus seem to be getting closer to start peace talks after a big push by the US administration and Ankara, raising hopes for a comprehensive solution.
Differences over a “joint statement” that would set out rules for the start of negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots have been stalled in the past few months. Turkish and Greek Cypriots have been negotiating over the joint statement, which is effectively a precondition communiqué for the Greek side to sit down at the negotiation table with the Turkish side.

While Turkish Cypriots believe that a joint statement is not actually necessary and that all issues should be discussed during the negotiations, Greek Cypriots insist on putting a number of points in the statement, such as singular sovereignty and singular international representation.

The United Nations delivered a draft joint statement to both sides on Thursday morning, following diplomatic efforts. Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said on Thursday, “It appears there are serious prospects for a substantive joint statement that will satisfy the basic principles governing a Cyprus settlement and lead to a resumption of negotiations.” Anastasiades has spoken with party leaders on the final draft of the joint statement and departed for Greece to hold talks with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Friday.

Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) President Derviş Eroğlu’s office made a statement on Thursday saying that they will share their thoughts with the public after carefully evaluating the joint statement. In a statement made later that same day, Eroğlu’s office said it appeared that negotiations on the joint statement were at the final stage, adding that Turkish Cypriots are going to wait for the Greek Cypriot side to clarify its stance before negotiations start.

The KKTC Foreign Ministry made a statement on Friday saying that Eroğlu has spoken with US Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns on the phone, but the statement did not elaborate on the content of the conversations.

After meeting with Erdoğlu and Anastasiades, US State Department Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland released a statement saying, “I am persuaded, after these discussions, that each leader is personally committed to making real progress in the coming days and weeks, which will give all the people of Cyprus new confidence and hope in the prospects for a settlement.”

“The two leaders assured me of their strong determination to reach agreement on a joint statement that will define the key principles to foster renewal of fruitful, results-oriented settlement negotiations. I assured them of President Obama and the American people’s strong support as they seize this opportunity, and I also pledged the United States’ continued, active engagement as they take courageous steps to heal the island’s divisions and bring security and economic prosperity to all the people of Cyprus,” Nuland added.

A copy of the draft joint statement obtained by Today’s Zaman shows that the Turkish Cypriot proposal on sovereignty is stated thus: “The united Cyprus, as a member of the UN and the EU, shall be a single, international legal personality and single sovereignty defined as the sovereignty that is enjoyed by all member states of the UN under the UN charter and which emanates equally from Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.”

The draft statement continued, “The status quo is unacceptable, and its prolongation will have negative consequences for Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots and respect for democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as each other’s distinct identity and integrity and the ensuring of their common future in a united Cyprus within the European Union.”

Ankara has played a pivotal role to overcome the deadlock before the Cyprus peace talks by approaching the Greek Cypriots for the first time and extending a proposal to the Greek side via the US mission in Nicosia. According to diplomatic sources, Turks and Americans have worked together closely and US Ambassador to Cyprus John M. Koenig played a key role by carrying Turkey’s messages to the Greek Cypriots and Greek Cypriots’ messages to Ankara.

The Greek Cyprus dailies Haravgi and Fileleftheros reported in late January that Turkey has offered a compromise formula to the Greek side, according to which the Turkish side would accept “single sovereignty” in exchange for Greek Cypriots agreeing to refer to the 1960 guarantee agreement in a comprehensive Cyprus accord. Following reports said that the offer was rejected.

Cyprus has been divided between the Greek Cypriot south and the Turkish Cypriot north since 1974, when Turkey sent troops to the island in the aftermath of a Greek-inspired coup that sought to unite the island with Greece. The Greek Cypriot administration is internationally recognized as representing the entire island, while only Turkey recognizes the KKTC.

Subsequent talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders to reach an agreement on a reunification plan have failed to produce any breakthroughs. Talks have been stalled since January of 2012 due to postponements by Greek Cyprus for various reasons, and no significant progress has been achieved over decades of UN-backed reunification talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders.