Onus on Tassos for Paris talks

SPECULATION about today’s meeting in Paris between President Papadopoulos and UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan has been rife. Ever since the meeting was fixed, politicians and media pundits have been contributing to the speculation, which has confused rather than enlightened. This is because nobody knows the exact reasons why the president had persistently sought to see Annan and agreed to a hastily-arranged meeting in Paris on the sidelines of an international conference about aid to Africa.

With the president keeping his cards close to his chest, it was inevitable that there would be speculation. Some believe that he wanted a meeting to show domestic public opinion, that there was some movement on the Cyprus issue and that claims that he was not interested in a new initiative were unjustified. Although this seems a rather simplistic explanation, it was reinforced by the calls of his government allies, AKEL, for the immediate appointment of a UN special representative to Cyprus, as if this were an end in itself. But would Annan appoint a special representative if the latter would have nothing to do?

Another theory is that Papadopoulos was spurred into action by Turkey’s proposed Action Plan for Cyprus, which was welcomed by the international community, including the European Commission, the US and the UN. Annan has in fact said that he would discuss Ankara’s proposal at his meet with Papadopoulos. This may be deemed unnecessary, considering that there has been some movement on Cyprus at the EU. On Friday, COREPER unanimously agreed to decouple financial aid to the Turkish Cypriots and direct trade, something it had failed to achieve in a year and a half of meetings. This has sparked talk about the opening of Famagusta port, under joint administration, which would be a welcome confidence-building development.

All this should be discussed at today’s meeting, but it remains to be seen whether it would convince Annan to appoint a special representative to prepare the ground for a new initiative. He had set a condition for a new initiative – the prioritisation of changes the Cyprus government wants made to the Annan plan – something Papadopoulos has said he would not do before negotiations resumed. Logically speaking, if both men stick to their stated positions, nothing will come out of the meeting.

And as the final say over whether there will be a new initiative is Annan’s, the pressure will be on Papadopoulos to persuade him that there is an alternative course of action that could produce the desired results. He will need to make a very convincing presentation of his case, supported by well-thought out and practical proposals which would have to be acceptable not only to Annan but also the Turkish side. If on the other hand, he uses the meeting, simply, to argue against the adoption of the Turkish Action Plan, without making any realistic, alternative proposals, it would be tantamount to burying the idea of a new initiative.