Presidents Eroglu and Anastasiades meeting this morning in Nicosia to sign the joint statement which will precede the Cyprus negotiations.
President Eroglu has appointed Kudret Ozersay as the chief negotiator for the Turkish Cypriots. Ozersay, an experienced diplomat, has worked with former President Mehmet Ali Talat and before him, the late President Rauf Denktaş.
In an interview on Sunday with Turkish daily ‘Milliyet’ Eroglu said he hoped to reach an agreement and hold a referendum in three to five months – if both sides show willingness to reach a solution in Cyprus.
On his part, President Anastasiades said: “The hardest part is yet to follow. The joint declaration doesn’t constitute the solution to the Cyprus problem, but sets the parameters along which the two communities must move.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday that a solution to the Cyprus dispute is critical for peace in the region and that he is pleased with the joint draft statement.
“This [Cyprus] issue cannot last for years. The talks should not be open-ended and cannot be dragged into a deadlock if one side negatively responds to the talks. Deadlock should not be an option. There should be a permanent solution for Cyprus,” Davutoglu said, adding, “If the Greek side again says no to the talks, this time a referendum would not remain inconclusive.” Davutoglu made reference to the Annan plan proposed by the United Nations in 2004 to resolve the Cyprus dispute, which was rejected by the Greek side. The Annan plan suggested establishing a federation of two states. Greek Cypriots rejected the proposal by 76%, while 65% of Turkish Cypriots approved it in a referendum that took place across the island in 2004.
The fresh peace initiative is said to be the result of backstage diplomacy conducted by the US, whose eye is on the bigger picture involving cooperation between Israel, Turkey and Cyprus.
There is speculation that the Greek Cypriots might be more willing to compromise following the banking crisis in the South and the punitive EU bailout early last year. The discovery of gas, offshore Cyprus and in particular the method of its distribution could also be a paving stone in the path towards a peace settlement.
Another incentive for Turkey to back successful negotiations is that a settlement would positively influence its application to join the EU. Relations between itself and the EU have become increasing strained following the police actions at Gezi Park last year and the government’s consistent erosion of democracy. Most recently Turkey’s attempts to disempower the judiciary, muzzle the press and strictly control the internet have raised grave concerns internationally, about the direction in which the Turkish government heading.
However, Hugh Pope, of the International Crisis Group in Istanbul, is not optimistic. He said:
“The fact is that we have had four decades of talks, five major rounds and none of them have managed to get very far,” he said, adding that trade between the two sides was diminishing and that there “was no sign that popular opinion is interested in coming together”.
Pope does, nevertheless, welcome plans for Greek and Turkish Cypriot negotiators to travel to Ankara and Athens respectively and the Cypriot government’s preparedness “to have a much lighter federation than the previous government aimed at”.
But he added: “Currently there isn’t any change in the parameters on the table that would make one believe there is a miracle about to happen.”