Financial Times Andreas Hadjipapas, Dan Dombey, Kerin Hope
The leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities in Cyprus are set to announce a fresh initiative to reunify the Mediterranean island following months of quiet diplomacy by the US aimed at achieving a broader reconciliation involving Israel, Turkey and Cyprus.
Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, and Dervis Eroglou, his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, will on Tuesday make a joint commitment to resuming negotiations “in a results-oriented manner” hoping to wrap up a peace settlement as soon as possible, according to the text of a joint declaration leaked to Cypriot media at the weekend.
The US intervention ended a five-month stalemate, typical of previous efforts to reinvigorate UN sponsored peace talks, over details of turning the ethnically divided island into a federation. This would be formed of two constituent states in which Greek and Turkish Cypriots would continue to run their own domestic affairs.
“The two sides will seek to create a positive atmosphere to ensure the talks succeed. They commit to avoiding blame games or other negative comments on the negotiations,” the statement said.
Relations between the two communities have been sour since 2004 when the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan – named after the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan – in a referendum. Mr Anastasiades was the only Greek Cypriot leader to back the plan. The result meant that the smaller Turkish Cypriot community living on the north of the island was blocked from EU membership, even though it backed reunification in a separate vote.
With the two biggest Greek Cypriot political parties backing the new initiative, there was optimism in Nicosia that an end to the island’s 40-year division could be within reach.
Recent discoveries of large offshore gas deposits between Cyprus and Israel that could be channelled to European markets by a pipeline through Turkey have fuelled hopes of a settlement.
“The economic problems triggered by Cyprus’s banking collapse and bailout have badly shaken society. More people now think that a solution could be a catalyst for economic growth involving reconstruction and offshore gas development, ”said Philippos Savvides, an Athens-based commentator.
Progress on the Cypriot front would be enormously significant for Turkey – the power behind the Turkish Cypriots – at a time when the country has put renewed focus on its EU membership hopes and has signalled its interest in gas purchases from Israel. At present both issues are complicated by the Cyprus dispute: 14 of Turkey’s 35 negotiating chapters with the EU are blocked because of tensions between Ankara and Nicosia, while the logical route for an Israeli-Turkish gas pipeline would go through Cypriot waters and could also link up with Cyprus’ own gas production.
“If there is a solution, we could open all 14 chapters, they could transport gas to Turkey, there would be so many positive aspects.” said a Turkish official. “The Greek Cypriots need a positive result for the economy as well.”
He argued that the joint statement could pave the way to a final deal in coming months, because the two sides “have basically agreed on the core issues” in the text.
In a related development, diplomats say Turkey and Israel are close to agreeing the compensation terms over the deaths of nine Turkish activists killed by the Israel Defence Forces in 2010. Such an agreement would allow Israel and Turkey to exchange ambassadors once again and greatly facilitate Turkish-Israeli energy co-operation, as part of the new energy map of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey is also keen to improve relations with the EU, its major source of investment, finance and export markets, in the light of a corruption scandal that has strained ties with the West and highlighted the country’s dependence on hot money.
But Hugh Pope at the International Crisis Group in Istanbul said there were still long odds against a deal. “The fact is that we have had four decades of talks, five major rounds and none of them have managed to get very far,” he said, adding that trade between the two sides was diminishing and that there “was no sign that popular opinion is interested in coming together”.
Mr Pope hailed plans for Greek and Turkish Cypriot negotiators to travel to Ankara and Athens respectively and the Cypriot government’s preparedness “to have a much lighter federation than the previous government aimed at”.
But he added: “Currently there isn’t any change in the parameters on the table that would make one believe there is a miracle about to happen.”