Talks’ failure will lead to partition

FAILURE IN the current talks will most certainly mean partition for Cyprus, and not a just a benign continuation of the status quo, the International Crisis Group (ICG) says in its latest report due to be published today.

“Most actors agree that the window of opportunity for this bicommunal, bizonal settlement will close by April 2010, the date of the next Turkish Cypriot elections, when the pro-settlement leader (Mehmet Ali Talat) risks losing his office to a more hardline candidate,” the draft ICG report says.

Failure to reach an accord, the organisation said, would mean an indefinite partition of the island, leading to more strains in EU-Turkey relations and new frictions in the east Mediterranean.

It would also mean “less EU-NATO cooperation, acceleration of the centrifugal forces scattering the Turkish Cypriots and new risks to the prosperity and security of Greek Cypriots.”

And a de facto partition would not be a benign continuation of the status quo, as many Cypriots believe.

Cyprus has been frustrating Turkey’s EU course and this “contributes to frictions over offshore oil exploration rights, including in waters disputed with Greece, that have brought opposing gunboats into close proximity,” the group said.

“In the absence of a Cyprus settlement, both communities on the island and Turkey will experience slower economic progress, greater defence spending and reduced international credibility,” the report says.

The group suggested that Turkey is today more ready than in the past to defy the EU and risk irreversible damage to the relationship over what it also sees as issues of national interest and justice.

“This faultline will be tested again in discussions leading up to December’s EU summit, in which the heads of state and government must decide what to do about Turkey’s failure to implement its signed obligation to open its ports to Greek Cypriot air and sea traffic,” the Crisis Group said.

It recommends to the two leaderships to show greater willingness to bargain across individually insoluble issues in the talks and build a joint public relations strategy to communicate to both sides on the island a tangible dedication to a comprehensive settlement.

The two leaders will also have to explain to their people that this is almost certainly the last chance for many years for any settlement and that the alternative is likely to be partition.

As for the guarantor powers, Greece, Turkey, and the UK, they could agree, with the involvement of the two communities, on upgrading the Treaties of Guarantee and Alliance that could include reunited Cyprus as a signatory and set out a graduated mix of EU, UN and international oversight of a settlement.

“Complacency and cynicism in both communities are now so high that the peace talks do not even have a name. Almost nothing has been done to implement the 22 confidence-building steps agreed in June/July 2008. The two leaders have not yet communicated their undoubted will to build a brighter future for Cypriots.1 It is urgent that they should agree on and implement a joint strategy.”

It said currently, only 23 per cent of Greek Cypriots and 41 per cent of Turkish Cypriots are reportedly leaning towards a “yes” in a referendum; about one third in both communities are said to be definitely leaning towards a “no”. According to the pollsters, “an agreement in Cyprus is possible, but it will be a hard sell to the people of both communities”.

It added that both community leaders, particularly Talat, were weaker domestically than a year ago.

Quoting a senior diplomat in the region the report said: “The international community is getting tired … if all this fails, bizonal and bicommunal will be dead. It has had 32 years. Big efforts have been made. This is the negotiation that they postponed [in 2004]. If this fails, it’s dead. The status quo is finished. The future is either federation or partition.

Failure in the talks in 2010 could also have deep repercussions for the UN presence. According to a senior diplomat: “This is the last chance. If it fails, I think the UN should give up. There is no point in pursuing a policy that doesn’t work. Turkey will not come back to this [set of parameters]. We should say no further. In two years, UNFICYP will be gone. Then, in the end, the Greek Cypriots will have to sit down with Turkey and discuss their mutual border, which will be going right through the middle of Nicosia.