Cyprus Peace Talks Intensify

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 168

Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias, left, and the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot community, Mehmet Ali Talat, right, after their meeting at a U.N compound inside the UN-controlled buffer zone in the divided island's capital Nicosia, on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009.

The troubled peace talks have resumed in Cyprus after Greek Cypriot officials boycotted them in the first week of September. As the second part of the negotiations began, the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Dimitris Christofias met for their 41st meeting aimed at finding a solution to the issue.

Newspapers in Cyprus reported that the international community has been working on two possible plans. Priority is ascribed to the plan that targets finding a solution based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal framework based on political equality, with the existence of two founding states of equal status. This plan also entails a form of Turkish guarantee over the solution, and a united Cyprus would become a member of the European Union. In the event that Talat and Christofias fail to agree on a solution, according to the Fileleftheros newspaper, the second plan will be put into effect. This entails the removal of the isolation and embargoes on Northern Cyprus, and possibly adopting a "Taiwanization" model, providing an immediate upgrade politically and economically to the country. According to Greek Cypriot newspapers this plan, will only be implemented if a solution cannot be reached by 2010 (Cyprus Star, September 4).

In a television interview, Talat stated that in the second part of the meetings the agenda will include how to deal with property issues relating to displaced persons who left after the 1974 war, agreeing a revised map, and Greek, Turkish and British guarantor agreements. The most important issue relates to "reign and power sharing" Talat added. He suggested that during the second part of the talks that the parties will concentrate on discussing these three issues (, August 14).

Related to the power sharing issue, Talat has taken a surprising step toward accepting Greek Cypriot demands to elect the president, vice president, and senators by both Greek and Turkish societies on the Island. He said that Turks and Greeks will vote to elect Turkish and Greek leaders. Turkish leaders who are not approved by Greek voters would not hold the presidency or the vice-presidency of the island, and the same rules would apply to the Greek leaders as well (Hurriyet, September 15).

Talat’s suggestion provoked major criticism from the opposition parties in Turkish Cyprus, who argued that this decision would erode Turkish power. The former Turkish Cypriot President, Rauf Denktas harshly criticized the offer and accused Talat of promoting the Greek Cypriot aim to unite the island with a plan that considers Turks as a minority without equal rights with Greeks on the Island (, September 14). Talat, on the other hand, defended his position by arguing that the concept is not new, since it was in former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan that seeks to form two equal federative models with two equal democracies (, September 14).

It appears that the Turkish and Greek leaders’ efforts to address the problem are limited. Recently, Gro Brundtland, the former Norwegian Prime Minister, and the former U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi visited Ankara, Athens and Nicosia to renew their efforts to reunify the eastern Mediterranean island. According to representatives of the independent group of elders, the Cyprus peace process needs additional support in order to succeed, not only from the people on the war-divided island, but also from the region and the international community (Hurriyet Daily News, September 13).

The efforts to resolve the Cyprus issue are linked with the E.U.’s decision to reconsider its decision at the end of 2009. The decision was taken in 2006 not to negotiate eight critical chapters with Ankara until it re-opens Turkish ports to Greek Cypriot ships and goods. Perhaps related to this deadline to reconsider the E.U. negotiation process with Turkey, Talat visited Brussels and met with E.U. officials, including the Vice-President of the European Commission Margot Wallstrom, and the Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rhen. Talat stated that to find a just solution to the Cyprus issue would involve Brussels supporting the peace process on the basis of U.N. parameters (, September 15). Regarding Turkish-E.U. relations and its impact on the Cyprus problem, Talat said that any punitive sanction on Turkey as a result of the Cyprus issue "would be wrong" (Zaman, September 15).

While Talat met with officials in Brussels, the Greek Cypriot leader planned to visit U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Speaking at an event held in the buffer zone, Christofias explained that he plans to address the issue of the return of Maras to Greek Cyprus; the city was occupied by Turkish soldiers during the 1974 crisis and created refugee problems for the international community (, September 15).

Hugh Pope, the Turkey and Cyprus Project Director of the International Crisis Group, and one of the foremost experts on the Cyprus problem believes that this is the last chance to resolve the conflict, and that the parties have only six months to find a solution before the presidential election in April (, September 14). Pope and other observers agree that if Christofias and Talat cannot solve this problem, it will prove more difficult to address in the future. Meanwhile, Talat accepts that Christofias is sincere about searching for a lasting peace settlement, and that his counterpart represents the only opportunity to achieve this, because some Greek Cypriots want to see the talks fail (Zaman, September 15).