President Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed yesterday to start on 3 September full-fledged negotiations aimed at a 'solution' to the Cyprus problem. Unlike the 2004 process, this time round there won't be any strict timetables or a UN 'referee' to impose a plan that he believes satisfactory regardless of the objections of the interested parties and which, in 2004, under US and particularly UK influence, resulted in the disgraceful Annan plan.
Christofias had said he would only begin full-fledged negotiations with Talat if there were a sufficient coalescence of views by the two sides on the basis of a Cyprus solution. Specifically, Christofias wanted the Turks to commit to the idea that the Republic of Cyprus would be transformed into a bizonal, bicommunal federation with one citizenship, sovereignty and international personality.
Yet, despite some vague hints by Talat that he accepted Christofias' terms, the truth is that the Turks have not come round to Christofias' way of thinking and, as was made clear last Saturday by Turk PM Recip Tayip Erdogan, during events in occupied Nicosia to commemorate the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Turks expect a Cyprus solution to be based on 'two equal states and an equal partnership based on the realities in the island'; a 'new partnership in which Turkish Cypriots participate equally and as a founder state.'
(Christofias has fudged the issue by claiming that when the Turks talk about having their own state, this will mean their own politeia and not their own kratos).
The other criterion Christofias set before he would agree to full-fledged negotiations with Talat was that sufficient progress should have been made in the technical committees and working groups established in March to look at all aspects of the Cyprus problem, from the significant issues of territory, constitution, property, settlers and so on, to the less controversial issues concerning environment, crime, cultural heritage and so on.
Again, here, while there has been some agreement on the less controversial issues, there has been no progress on the significant issues and even on the less controversial issues, there has been no progress on those which might contribute to meaningful reunification of the island; for example, on opening more crossing points between the free and occupied areas.
(It was expected that the opening of a crossing point at Limnitis in north-western Cyprus would be announced yesterday, but this was vetoed by the Turkish occupation army; while this report makes clear that the destruction of Greek cultural monuments in the occupied areas, despite this so-called peace process, continues unabated).
So why has Christofias agreed to new negotiations, especially when he understands that beginning full-fledged talks without sufficient preparation and agreement on the basic parameters of a solution will risk the process promptly collapsing and allow the Turks to claim that this was the last chance for reunifying the island and now other solutions, like that applied to Kosovo, should be considered?
Here are some suggestions as to what Christofias may have been thinking:
1. If Christofias stalled on agreeing to full-fledged negotiations he risked incurring the displeasure of the international community, which might then pursue recognition of the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.'
2. Having successfully convinced the international community that he is committed to a Cyprus solution, Christofias is hoping that even if so far he has not been able to persuade the Turkish side to abandon its unacceptable positions, his credit with the relevant centres of power is sufficiently good as to persuade them to apply pressure on the Turks to be more flexible.
3. Christofias has accepted the argument that political uncertainty in Turkey, with the Kemalists and Islamists at loggerheads, could undermine Turkey's EU aspirations – Turkey's EU aspirations is the only reason Turkey is contemplating a Cyprus solution – and work against a Cyprus solution in the medium and long term. In Cyprus too, Turkish Cypriot nationalists and the increasing numbers of Turkish settlers are also exerting pressure on Talat – claiming he is being too conciliatory and abandoning the 'TRNC' – prompting Christofias to figure that Talat and pro-solution Turkish Cypriots might not be around much longer.
4. The alternative to full-fledged negotiations would be a continuation of the working groups and technical committees; but Christofias has accepted the argument that there is a limit to what advisers and civil servants can agree and that the significant issues can only be settled by the leaders of the two communities and, when it comes to issues to do with security and guarantees, by Nicosia, Athens and Ankara.