The US Congressional Research Service (CRS), in its latest report, has concluded that the reunification of Cyprus is proving elusive and that if both sides reject the terms of reference for new talks, which is being facilitated by the UN, negotiations would “come under serious doubt”.
The report comes as UN envoy Jane Holl Lute is due to arrive on the island Saturday night for separate meetings on Sunday with the two leaders to help put together the terms of reference under the instructions from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
However, the CRS report said some observers question whether Lute’s mission could succeed, as too many issues likely would not be included in her eventual terms of reference document.
For instance, it said, it may not be likely that President Nicos Anastasiades could accept a definition of political equality for the Turkish Cypriots favoured by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci or reverse his long-held position and accept a target deadline to conclude the talks.
“Anastasiades does not seem inclined to accept some small level of Turkish troops on the island as part of a new multilateral peacekeeping force for several years, or at least until the north came into full compliance with the EU’s acquis,” said the report.
Other unanswered questions also remained such as whether Akinci could accept a terms of reference document that sidestepped the issue of political equality as he defines it.
“Could either side accept a future NATO-led peacekeeping force, in which Turkish and Greek troops could participate as a reassurance to both sides? History might indicate a continued “no” to these questions,” it added.
At the same time, it said, relations between Turkey and the Greek Cypriots had become so tense over the energy exploration issue that neither side appeared capable of backing down from its security demands, “leaving little room for optimism that any kind of a solution can be achieved”.
“Many also wonder whether either leader could sell any agreement to his community at this point. If Ankara has determined that a federation is no longer desirable or if some in the Turkish Cypriot government insist that Akinci push to put confederation or a two-state solution on the table, the Guterres terms of reference effort is doomed and Lute will find no more success upon her return to the island in 2019 than she did in December 2018,” it added.
The report said it appeared that with the current process in trying to work out the terms of reference for new talks, that Guterres had specifically intended to challenge the sincerity of both sides to return to the negotiations.
Guterres also appeared to have adopted Akinci’s demand for a results-oriented negotiation, first by making it clear that both sides would have to agree to the terms of reference document that Lute would draft and then by not letting the talks become open-ended by allowing the terms of reference document, once presented, to be renegotiated, the CRS noted.
“The approach initially seemed to work: Anastasiades reportedly believed the terms of reference could reinforce his position that Turkish military forces would have to withdraw from the island and future security guarantees for the island would have to take another form,” it said.
“Akinci apparently saw some support for his demand for political equality for Turkish Cypriots. Acceptance of the terms of reference, particularly if there were disagreements on some of the terms, would require the restoration of trust between the two leaders, between the Greek Cypriots and Ankara, and perhaps between Ankara and Akinci. It was unclear whether this could happen. Akinci indicated he was no longer sure what type of solution Anastasiades was looking for and made it clear again that he could not accept changes to the security issues.”
The report went on to say that more critical than the process under which the negotiations might resume was an indication that the political mindset surrounding the talks may have been changing and that in late 2018 Anastasiades surprised many by suggesting that both sides might consider some form of a “decentralised” federation.
“This proposal resulted in the atmosphere becoming somewhat muddled. Some thought that after meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu in New York, Anastasiades may have become convinced that Ankara would no longer accept a federal solution and that Anastasiades was looking for an acceptable middle ground,” it said.
“Some others assumed that Anastasiades was trying to buy time in the hope that the gas exploration being conducted by Exxon-Mobile and others would produce positive results, thus putting more pressure on the Turkish Cypriots to cut a deal in time to guarantee they would share in the potential revenues generated by the additional gas finds.”
The report notes that some long-time observers of the negotiations in the international community expressed deep concern for the direction the dispute has taken since the last round of talks collapsed in Crans-Montana in July 2017.
“At this point, and despite the effort being put forward by UN Secretary-General Guterres to restart the negotiations, a final settlement for Cyprus remains elusive,” it concluded.