As rival leaders of ethnically divided Cyprus began new re-unification talks on Monday in Geneva, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed, during a lengthy phone conversation, that they will attend a multilateral conference on Thursday only if a solution to the decades-old dispute is within reach.
Analysts agree that both leaders are keen to show that they have a constructive role to play in the bid for a solution and have thus agreed to monitor the talks closely and remain in contact. According to the Tsipras’s aides, there is still a significant distance separating the two sides and the most likely scenario will be that Athens and Ankara will be represented at the conference by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. If, on the other hand, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim attends the conference, , as some reports claim, then Greece will most likely dispatch Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis to Geneva.
Sources in Athens said that if Yildirim attends the conference this would be a clear indication that Ankara does not expect the talks between the Cypriot leaders to yield any results, as Erdogan, they said, is the only one that can conduct meaningful negotiations on Turkey’s part.
Meanwhile, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci began talks on Monday in the runup to Thursday’s conference, which will also include Britain, the island’s former colonial ruler and one of its three guarantor powers along with Greece and Turkey.
Even though Espen Barth Eide, the UN special envoy, said that “we are now in the moment of truth” and that a deal could be within reach, both sides sought to play down expectations for a quick fix.
Negotiators are faced with a steep climb to overcome significant differences over power-sharing, the redrawing of territorial boundaries and post-settlement security, which have been sticking points in the past.
Anastasiades appeared cautious on Monday. “Ask me when we are finished,” he said, while Akinci echoed similar reservations. “We are not pessimistic, but I see no need for exaggerated expectations that everything will just happen. We are expecting a difficult week,” he said.