At a crossroads

The arrival of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today in Athens coincides, according to well-informed sources, with extra pressure for a deal on Cyprus by March 6. The fact that Annan himself yesterday referred to the target date of February 28 (a deadline deemed impossible even by the most optimistic observers) so that separate referendums can be held by mid-March adds to the claim that military preparations for an Iraq war have not sidelined the Cyprus issue. Instead, there is international pressure – mainly from Washington – for a solution amid the mayhem over Iraq. The question is whether the tight deadline and overall conditions allow room for a settlement, given that Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots appear intransigent on all points now that vague niceties must make way for very specific compromises. Annan’s memo contains no fresh proposals but mere ideas. It removes a number of ambiguities or ill-thought-out solutions. At the same time, it adopts others of questionable viability, such as the proposal for a minister of European Affairs who will be independent of the presidency and serve a five-year term when all other officials will alternate. Also, the memo falls short of explaining how a solution can be achieved when the guarantor powers of Britain, Greece and Cyprus have not resolved the security status of the island, as was pointed out by the Cypriot president-elect, Tassos Papadopoulos. The Greek Cypriots and Greece firmly believe the Annan blueprint presents a golden opportunity for Cyprus – and Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Cassoulides reiterated this yesterday. However, readiness to seize a golden opportunity does not mean hastily embracing terms or vague conditions which could torpedo the entire plan. This peril grows as the essence of the provisions and an in-depth study of the crucial parameters are neglected for the sake of meeting inelastic deadlines. Athens and Nicosia have displayed their willingness to promote a deal, even within the Copenhagen time frames when they ran up against Turkish intransigence. That Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots have rejected the reasonable proposals to date does not mean that Nicosia and Athens must accept unreasonable ones today. Greece and Cyprus must remind the world who has been responsible for the impasse up till now and suggest viable solutions on crucial issues. The Annan plan could indeed lead to a solution, so long as it focuses on a viable one rather than a quick one.