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18 July, 2024
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High stakes for Cyprus at Vilnius and New York

Vilnius summit and diplomatic efforts at UN Headquarters set the stage for reviving Cyprus issue and shaping Turkey's future with the West

Yiannis Ioannou

Yiannis Ioannou

All eyes are turned towards Vilnius, Lithuania, and the NATO Summit, as the negotiation deadlock between Turkey and the West, with Sweden's accession to the Alliance in the background, largely determines Erdogan's grid of relations with NATO and the EU in the coming months. At the same time, both the meeting between Mitsotakis and Erdogan and the one between the Turkish President and President Joe Biden have significant implications for Cyprus, for a variety of reasons. Meanwhile, Nicosia is also looking towards New York and the headquarters of the United Nations, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Constantinos Koumoutsakos, will have extensive meetings with the leading trio of the international organization during the NATO Summit, as part of a diplomatic effort aimed at appointing a Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Cyprus issue and restarting the negotiations.

The NATO Summit in Lithuania is a significant milestone not only for the issue of Sweden's accession to the Alliance but also for how Turkey-West relations will be shaped in the immediate future. Erdogan seems to have created a high-risk (but also high-reward) bargain, with a focus on his tough stance regarding Sweden and the issue of F-16s, while simultaneously banking on President Joe Biden himself to find a mutually beneficial solution to the issue. Erdogan's signals are multiple:

- He recently welcomed Ukrainian President Zelensky, sending a clear message of unwavering support for Ukraine's future accession to NATO, and made a symbolic gesture by handing over the leadership of the "Azov" battalion, which had been stationed on Turkish soil as part of an agreement with Russia, to the Ukrainian President (a move that elicited an official reaction from Moscow).
- After a long period, he had a telephone conversation with President Biden, referring to Turkey's EU accession process, which touches on specific aspects of Euro-Atlantic approaches given the Summit.
- He hinted that, even unilaterally, after July 17 (the date of the agreement's reassessment), he would take action regarding the security corridor in the Black Sea.

Beyond Erdogan's signals to the West, for Cyprus, the meeting between the Turkish President and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday, July 12, is of great importance. The meeting will not only confirm a process of rapprochement between Athens and Ankara, which the US President himself supports with his statements on armament balance but is also expected to be of Cypriot interest in terms of conveying messages from Athens regarding Cyprus to the southeastern corner of NATO and the prospect of restarting negotiations. In this regard, on Monday, Mr. Mitsotakis had a phone conversation with President Christodoulides for coordination purposes. Therefore, the Mitsotakis-Erdogan meeting is expected to provide a real insight into the intentions of the Turkish President regarding the prospect of restarting dialogue on the Cyprus issue, especially for Nicosia.

While the broader picture of diplomatic developments unfolds in Lithuania, Foreign Minister Constantinos Koumoutsakos will have a barrage of contacts in New York to persuade the UN about the appointment of a Special Envoy for Cyprus. On Tuesday, June 11, Mr. Koumoutsakos will meet with the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, and will also have meetings with the two Deputy Secretaries-General (for Peacekeeping Operations and Political Affairs, Lacroix and Di Carlo, respectively), as well as the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Soares. Following President Christodoulides' letter to the Secretary-General, Mr. Koumoutsakos will undertake the challenging task of advocating for the appointment of an envoy while shedding light on the aspects of the initiative proposed by Nicosia for the active involvement of the European Union in the process of resolving the deadlock in the negotiations that has persisted for six years.

The meeting that stands out among Mr. Koumoutsakos' contacts at the UN is the one with the US Deputy Secretary of State, Jeffrey Pyatt, responsible for energy matters. Mr. Pyatt, who served as the US Ambassador to Greece from 2016 to 2022, is considered an excellent connoisseur of the region, Greek-Turkish relations, and the Cyprus issue. Analysts and journalists attribute to him the significant upgrade in US-Greece relations during the period (2016-2017) that coincided with the peak of the Cyprus negotiations. Moreover, against the backdrop of developments in the relations between the "quadrilateral" of the EU-NATO-West-Turkey, the Koumoutsakos-Pyatt meeting may convey positive messages to Ankara, always with a focus on restarting the negotiation process.

In conclusion, both the NATO Summit and Koumoutsakos' meetings at the UN headquarters will largely determine whether there is room, in a final and probably last window of opportunity, to revive the Cyprus issue based on negotiations in the coming months. What is certain is that, apart from whether Turkey will leave Vilnius with significant diplomatic gains regarding the F-16 issue and its objections to Sweden, the next significant milestone for the prospects will once again be New York in September. The crucial point there will be a meeting between the Secretary-General and the two leaders on the sidelines of the General Assembly, to complete the appointment of a Special Envoy by Mr. Guterres for Cyprus, based on the initiative of the Greek Cypriot side, and to shed light on the aspects of the European Union's involvement in the process of resolving the deadlock in the negotiations.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  USA  |  Lithuania  |  politics

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