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Cyprus talks to resume in atmosphere of uncertainty May 26, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Cyprus, Turkey.
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The long-standing Cyprus problem had always been a diplomat’s nightmare but the resumption of peace negotiations scheduled for Wednesday makes it even worse.

Both the United Nations which oversees the negotiations for decades and diplomats actively involved in the process are concerned that new players in the game and hidden cards on the table could make harder than ever before reaching a settlement, despite some progress achieved over the past 20 months.

Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, acting as leader of the Greek Cypriot community, is expected to come face to face for the first time over the negotiating table with new Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.

The two are to continue talks interrupted at the end of March, because of an election in northern Cyprus under Turkish Cypriot control.

Eroglu, a right-wing nationalist who had for decades advocated an independent Turkish Cypriot state having loose relations with the internationally recognized Cyprus Republic, won the election and replaced Mehmet Ali Talat as the new Turkish Cypriot leader.

Eroglu, under pressure from Turkey, which is worried about possible damage to its prospects of joining the European Union, has promised that he will continue re-unification negotiations aimed at a federal solution, taking up from the point left off by his moderate predecessor Talat.

Nevertheless, diplomats in Nicosia are expressing concern that his underlying political philosophy would lead to a stagnation of the negotiations, further complicating Turkey’s EU accession drive.

Turkey keeps some 35,000 troops in the Turkish Cypriot north since 1974, when it militarily intervened and occupied the north of the island in response to a coup staged by Greek army officers against the then President Archbishop Makarios.

In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot authorities declared breakaway and set up “the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” which is recognized only by Turkey.

The Republic of Cyprus, an EU member represented by Greek Cypriots since 2004, can block further progress of Turkey’s accession negotiations if Eroglu comes forward in the negotiations with hard-line policies on a solution.

To make things even more complicated, Cyprus President Demetris Christofias seems to be increasingly isolated as Greek Cypriot political parties, except his own left wing AKEL party, have withdrawn support from him.

The National Council, an advisory body to the president on the Cyprus problem, has failed for the first time in its 40-year-old history to come up with a joint communique on the policy to be followed by the Greek Cypriot leader.

After six days of bickering this month, political leaders came out with diverging views. Those distancing themselves from Christofias included his coalition partner, who demanded withdrawal of “generous proposals” he made in the talks.

These provided for a rotating presidency of a future federal Cyprus and election of the President and vice-president by a ” weighted vote” of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots — meaning that one Turkish Cypriot vote would count for four Greek Cypriot votes.

Even more serious was the dissenting position of the opposition Democratic Rally partly (DISY). Though a center-right party, it had always been considered to see eye-to-eye with Christofias’ left wing AKEL party on the Cyprus problem.

The two parties control about one third each of the Greek Cypriot vote, so DISY’s vote would be of critical importance in the case of an eventual solution being put to a referendum.

DISY did not demand withdrawal of the president’s proposals but remained aloof, proposing a change in the procedure for seeking a solution. It said that Turkey, Greece, Britain, the United Nations and the European Union should be invited to be part of the effort.

Christofias dismissed the suggestion outright, giving rise to a wider rift.

Another newcomer in the process of seeking a Cyprus solution is the personal representative of the United Nations secretary- general in Cyprus, who leads the UN team in Cyprus and the peace- keeping operations by a small international military force, UNFICYP.

Ethiopian Tayee Brook-Zerihoun relinquished his post this month and is being replaced by Lisa Buttenheim, an American who had been Director of Asian and Pacific Affairs at the UN.

Provided her appointment is approved by the two communities of Cyprus, she will team up with Ban Ki-moon’s advisor on Cyprus, former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer, who is brokering between the two sides in the talks.

New Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu has come out with statements of being ready to resume talks on the lines already agreed upon. He said his aim is to reach a settlement by the end of this year.

Eroglu also sprang a surprise by including in his team of advisors many moderate politicians and technocrats, who had served with his predecessor. He actually named one of them as his personal assistant.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in Istanbul last week for a conference on Somalia, played up the chances of a Cyprus settlement. He built up on a report he had submitted to the UN Security Council, repeatedly stating that the two sides in Cyprus are close to an agreement.

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