Regional developments push Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders toward peace

11/02/2014

The on-and-off Cyprus reunification talks may be revived soon, according to statements from Greek and Turkish Cypriot officials.

By Erisa Dautaj for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 11/02/14

photo

Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu (left) and President Abdullah Gul conferred at the Cankaya Palace in Ankara on January 16th. [AFP]

Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are expressing interest in re-opening negotiations and issuing a joint declaration with the mediation of the United Nations (UN).

Alexander Downer, UN special envoy to Cyprus, has been conducting intensive diplomatic negotiations between the two sides as well as among UN Security Council nations.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said he saw "serious prospects" for the two sides to sit down again and resume negotiations after issuing a "shorter joint communique." The failure to agree on the wording of a joint communique has been blocking the negotiations since 2012. The Turkish Cypriot's presidency office said in a statement February 7th (Friday) that the two sides have reached agreement on the wording of the statement, though the text of the statement had not been released at publication time.

Meanwhile, the leader of Turkish Cypriots, Dervis Eroglu, said they were ready to start formal talks even without a joint statement.

"Both sides must sit together and start talking the issues at hand. We must get into a solution mindset," Eroglu said in a recent interview with the A Haber TV network.

According to some experts, the latest developments in the Mediterranean may push both sides to reach an agreement.

"I think they will push for a solution this time. There is too much at stake here," Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, the director of the Centre for International and European Studies at Istanbul's Kadir Has University, told SETimes.

Major developments, especially in the energy sector, which is seen as one of the major incentives for the reunification of the island, have recently taken place in the Mediterranean. Israel's Delek and other international firms have successfully explored offshore natural gas fields and companies are in the process of opening the wells. Energy-hungry Turkey is seen as the main beneficiary of the natural gas flowing from the island. Meanwhile, Turkey and Northern Cyprus finalised a water pipeline project to connect both sides to supply Cyprus with fresh drinking water, a major scarcity in Cyprus.

"There can be mutual economic co-operation," Huseyin Bagci, head of Pamukkale University, told SETimes.

The strategic incentives put Turkey in the same position with the European Union concerning the Cyprus issue. The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed on the urgency to re-start the talks during Erdogan's recent visit to Brussels.

"We agreed on the urgent need to find a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus issue. This is surely in our common interest and a decisive move in this field would no doubt also be conducive to progress in Turkey's wider relations with the European Union," Barroso said during a joint news conference with Erdogan.

However, economic interests for the reunification of the island do not necessarily reflect on political interests. Parties are still at odds whether the unified island should be a federation or there should be a two-state solution. Northern Cyprus is still clinging to its two-state demands while the Cyprus government is willing to make concessions in a federal solution framework.

Some experts say the positions of the two sides are not far apart.

"Both sides are saying the same thing in different words. If the sides agree on the wording, talks can be concluded," Sylvia Tiryaki, founder of Global Political Trends Centre, an Istanbul-based think tank, told SETimes.

The establishment of a federation or confederation would be the ideal solution to the issue, according to Tiryaki, who said this would "create less turmoil internationally" compared to a unitary state solution.

Despite all the good intentions, negotiations are expected to take time.

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"This year a solution is impossible. After the talks both communities must go to a referendum. I do not see a positive political climate for the reunification in either side," Bagci said.

However, he said that the openings of new chapters in Turkey-EU negotiation talks might create a momentum for Cyprus talks as well.

Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lived estranged since 1974 when the Turkish army took control of the northern part of the island, resulting in a de-facto partition. Cyprus has become a member of the EU and since then has become a threat to Turkey's aspirations to join the European bloc. The discovery of vast natural gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean created tension in the region between Turkey and Cyprus and sped up the process for the reopening of the peace talks.

How can the economic prospects of the Mediterranean be used as a positive reinforcement to unify Cyprus? Join the conversation in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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