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Talat’s last effort January 28, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Cyprus, Turkey.
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The second stage of the Cyprus intensified talks got underway Monday amid optimism that at least in the governance and power-sharing chapter the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides on the island would achieve some tangible convergence in their approaches.

Before the start of this second round of intensified or whole-day talks, which are slated to continue until Wednesday, Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias traveled to Athens for consultations with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who also holds the foreign minister portfolio, while Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat traveled to Istanbul Sunday for a series of contacts with President Abdullah Gül.

The two leaders briefed in length the leadership of their two motherlands and assessed what further moves they may take in this second round of intensified talks. At the Athens talks last Monday and Tuesday Christofias did not provide much optimism for a breakthrough in the process of Cyprus talks, which are heading to a recess because of the upcoming Turkish Cypriot presidential elections slated to be held April 19. If no candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote, a runoff would be held April 26 between the two leading candidates of the first round. Christofias and Papandreou branded during Athens talks the latest Turkish Cypriot proposals regarding power sharing and governance as “unacceptable” and urged Turkey to take some further constructive steps in the Cyprus peacemaking process.

Despite the negative tone in the statements made before, during and after the Athens visit of Christofias, however, Turkish sources have told this writer that indeed during the first round of the intensified talks the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders have managed to make some concrete steps toward reconciliation in the governance and power-sharing heading. And indeed at the Istanbul meetings Talat expressed his hope that depending on the attitude of the Greek Cypriot side he expected to come out of this second round of intensified talks with a full understanding or at least strong hope that there will be a full agreement soon on that heading.

Despite the Greek Cypriot and Greek statements that are considered in northern Cyprus and Ankara as unwise and ill-thought moves aimed at the gallery, and which if the two sides eventually reach a compromise deal would make it extremely difficult for the Christofias leadership to sell Greek Cypriots, sources with insight have told this writer though that the Greek Cypriot leader took the Turkish Cypriot package to the so-called National Council and got it flatly rejected. In the first round of intensified talks, the Turkish Cypriot package constituted the backbone of discussions and some real headway has been achieved.

Though there were some real problems regarding both the idea that the future federation should have a single airspace but two flight information regions, or FIRs, one controlled by Turkish Cypriots and one by Greek Cypriots and the demand that the future Cyprus federation should accord Turkey and Greece similar rights on the island, including the four freedoms – the right to settlement, of owning property, free circulation of labor and free circulation of capital – and granting them the “most favored nation” status. Regarding the double FIR issue, sources said it was understood from the first intensified talks that even though Christofias was not happy with the proposal, if an agreement could be reached on all the other issues, a deal would not collapse because of that demand from the Turkish Cypriots. But, the same level of the four rights for Turkey and Greece remains a serious issue.

While Greece has not yet publicly talked on the subject, Greek and Greek Cypriot sources have been stressing for some time that such demands of Turkish Cypriots and Ankara were incompatible with the European Union acquis communitaire but in Ankara Turkish officials underline that Turkey would accept either putting a ceiling for both Turkey and Greece, as was the case in the Annan plan, or granting Turkey the very same rights Greece, as an EU member, would have in the future Cyprus federation.

In this second round of intensified talks, Talat’s target is to finish with an accord on the governance and power-sharing heading. Such a development would help Talat as well in his reelection bid. So far in public opinion polls conservative Prime Minister Derviş Eroğlu is some 24 percentage points ahead of Talat and the incumbent president is slated to lose the polls unless sufficient tangible progress is achieved in the Cyprus talks to convince the frustrated Turkish Cypriots that a settlement has become discernible and Talat deserves a second chance.

Thus, this second round of intensified talks are indeed Talat’s last-ditch effort for political survival.

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