This article was published in Arab News on July 3, 2017.
Resumption of Cyprus talks
Talks resumed on June 28 in the Swiss Alpine resort of Crans-Montana to try to solve the Cyprus problem. Attendants include the Turkish- and Greek-Cypriot leaders, and the foreign ministers of three guarantor powers: Turkey, the UK and Greece. There have been countless similar talks for more than 40 years without concrete results.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel confessed after the fifth EU enlargement that it was a mistake to admit the Greek Cypriots to the bloc before the Cyprus question was resolved. The Greek side has little incentive to make concessions now that it has joined the EU.
So will Greek-Cypriot negotiators try to accommodate Turkish Cypriots’ legitimate demands eight months before presidential elections? More importantly, if a deal is agreed, will Greek Cypriots vote in favor of it when it is submitted to a referendum?
There are two outstanding issues in the negotiations: Reducing the Turkish military presence on the island and canceling the Treaty of Guarantee, signed in 1960 to secure the independence, territorial integrity and security of Cyprus.
The island is divided because the ruling military junta in Greece in 1974 tried to oust then-President of Cyprus Archbishop Makarios and annex it to Greece. Turkey used its rights as a guarantor power and prevented the annexation.
Greek Cypriots now insist on the withdrawal of Turkish troops because they claim they do not pose a threat to Turkish Cypriots. Ankara had hoped at one stage that the idea of annexing the island to Greece was abandoned, but this hope turned out to be unrealistic.
A law adopted on Feb. 10, 2017, by the Greek-Cypriot Parliament provides that festivities should be organized at schools to commemorate the anniversary of a referendum held in 1950 to annex Cyprus to Greece. Greek-Cypriot media tried to trivialize the initiative by claiming it was the work of a small far-right political party, ELAM, but did not explain why the ruling party DISI abstained during the vote rather than oppose the adoption of the law.
After noticing the negative effects of the law on ongoing negotiations, the Greek-Cypriot Parliament tried to revoke it but stopped short of doing so. It referred the question to the Supreme Court on the grounds of unconstitutionality. Soteris Drakos, a member of the political bureau of the ruling party, was so angry at its initiative to revoke the law that he announced his resignation from the party.
Will Greek-Cypriot negotiators try to accommodate Turkish Cypriots’ legitimate demands eight months before presidential elections? More importantly, if a deal is agreed, will Greek Cypriots vote in favor of it when it is submitted to a referendum?
It is difficult to tell what this referral to the Supreme Court means. Is it a palliative to gain time until presidential elections in the Greek part of the island or until the conclusion of negotiations with the Turkish part?
Worse will be if the court decides that the law is constitutional. Then future Greek-Cypriot generations will be educated with the ideology of annexing the island to Greece. Bearing this in mind, the Turkish side does not want give up its rights stemming from the Treaty of Guarantee and withdraw all its soldiers from the island until the Greek-Cypriot side demonstrates persuasively that annexing it to Greece is out of question.
What we see now is the opposite: Greek-Cypriot politicians working relentlessly to maintain the idea of annexation. Despite this, Turkey showed flexibility in Crans-Montana on the number of its troops to be kept on the island.
The first reports from the meeting said Turkey could agree to withdraw a token number of soldiers initially, and leave subsequent stages to a decision by a five-party committee composed of the Turkish and Greek parts of Cyprus and the three guarantor states, which will decide according to the evolution of the reconciliation process between Cypriot Turks and Greeks.
Greek Cypriots insist on the withdrawal of Turkish troops and the cancelation of the Treaty of Guarantee. When this is considered along with passing a law to commemorate the annexation referendum, it will not be easy to persuade Turkish Cypriots to agree to the departure of Turkish troops and the cancelation of the treaty.