Another round

Although no specific initiatives have been taken up to now, political and diplomatic officials in Nicosia and Athens are bracing for a new United Nations bid for a settlement of the Cyprus issue – the latest since the Turkish-Cypriot elections. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hinted at a new round of negotiations and Washington will almost certainly convince the UN secretary-general to get his plan back on the table. Ankara does not want to sign a customs union protocol with the Republic of Cyprus or, even worse, recognize the Greek-Cypriot government. This means the Turkish government would want to see a settlement before the October 3, 2005, starting date for EU talks. The fact that the Annan blueprint is tailored to Turkish demands gives Ankara quite a lot of room to maneuver. Greek-Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos has already clarified his stand: He has said he is in favor of a peace settlement under the condition that it is a just (at least on some basic points) and, above all, viable deal. However, he is not willing to award the secretary-general arbiter status – in other words, to give him the power to hammer out a solution and then ask the two interested parties to take it or leave it, as happened about a year ago. Nicosia wants to resume talks with the Turkish-Cypriot community, but it sees no need to rush. That is because Ankara’s signing of the customs union protocol and the expected pressure by the other European governments on Turkey to formally recognize the Republic of Cyprus is set to bolster Nicosia’s bargaining position in the negotiations. In practice, this means that Papadopoulos has no reason to be pressing for a quicker pace. On the other hand, it would be a grave mistake if Greek Cypriots entrenched themselves, diplomatically speaking. The president and his close aides must examine all possible scenarios so as to ward off the possibility of finding themselves framed in a diplomatic context outlined by third parties. Since they have accepted the UN peace plan as a basis for a solution, they must be very clear about the exact changes they want to see in the document and the ways by which they will go about promoting them. Preventing a surprise diplomatic initiative is not just Nicosia’s duty. Athens must also be on the alert so as to make an active contribution and not just reduce itself to a side role. In this diplomatic battle, the Greek Cypriots are not facing the Turkish Cypriots but Ankara.