The two Cypriots leaders are calling each other's bluff in a very public way, with one calling on the other to demonstrate readiness to restart peace talks in what some would describe as a politically difficult period.
Turkish Cypriot Mustafa Akinci issued a statement earlier this week, calling on President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, to state publicly whether he accepts a UN framework as a basis to resume talks.
“Let us declare it as a strategic package agreement. This way, the negotiations that would fill in the remaining gaps would be meaningful,” Akinci said.
The Turkish Cypriot leader was referring to a number of points listed by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres as guidelines during a peace conference last year that ultimately failed. No official document has been issued although both sides refer to the guidelines as the “Guterres framework.”
“If these parties no longer insist on the positions they put forward at the Conference on Cyprus... then the necessary conditions for the immediate resumption of the dialogue... are there”
Anastasiades issued a written response on Wednesday but with a caveat, saying this would be a positive development while also asking the Turkish Cypriot leader to elaborate on his gesture.
“If Mr. Akinci accepts the framework of Mr. Guterres, as it was presented to the sides on 4 July 2017, this is a positive development,” Anastasiades said, while attaching a list of questions for clarification.
Anastasiades brought up a number of points in his response, including Security and Guarantees which is a highly contested issue. Greek Cypriots view guarantees as “anachronistic” and out-of-place for an EU member state, while Turkish Cypriots view it as a security apparatus that works as a “deterrent” against sparking conflict between the two sides.
The Guterres framework proposes a new mechanism where both sides would feel secure, while introducing other parties and ways to monitor the solution implementation and peace on the island.
Anastasiades blamed the Turkish Cypriot side and Turkey for the failure of the peace summit at the Crans Montana resort in July 2017, saying that those two parties had initially opposed the framework.
“If these parties no longer insist on the positions they put forward at the Conference on Cyprus, despite their numerous statements to the contrary following the Crans Montana Conference, then the necessary conditions for the immediate resumption of the dialogue, which I have repeatedly called for, are there,” Anastasiades wrote.
Akinci is facing fierce political criticism for pushing for the Guterres framework now, with Turkish Cypriot officials and political opponents saying the Crans Montana talks collapsed, citing the UN Secretary General’s own words declaring the summit a failure. They also blamed Greek Cypriots for the failure.
The Turkish Cypriot leader said in his statement that he was ready to discuss the framework as it was submitted by the UNSG but encouraged the other side to do the same “without distorting it” he said.
New UN envoy to visit soon
Greek Cypriot officials said on Wednesday they did not anticipate any move before elections are held in Turkey later this year. But according to online daily Kathimerini, government sources confirmed that American diplomat Jane Holl Lute will be visiting the island soon to sound out the two leaders.
Both leaders are keeping their distance from each other since last summer, despite meeting last month for an informal dinner. Political pundits on both sides, both Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south, view the dinner and efforts to restart talks with skepticism.
An attempt to reunify the island under a bicommunal, bizonal, federal system failed in a referendum in April 2004, days before the Republic of Cyprus joined the European Union. Turkish Cypriots overwhelmingly voted in favour in hopes a reunified country would be their ticket to coming out of the shadows of their breakaway regime, recognized only by Turkey. But Greek Cypriots voted against the plan, citing fears that Turkey was not to be trusted.
Cyprus has been divided by ethnic conflict for over half a century. It was further divided in July 1974 when Turkey intervened by invading the northern third part of the island, several days following a short-lived military coup engineered by Athens.