By Esra Aygin
By achieving much more in little over a month than what was achieved in the last five years, the two Cypriot leaders have already proven that where there is a will, there is a way.
In a fresh round of negotiations – widely seen as the best and probably the last opportunity to reunify the island – leaders Mustafa Akinci and Nicos Anastasiades started discussing the core issues of the Cyprus problem this week.
The substantial discussions are based on a roughly 100-page document that shows the convergences and divergences between the sides on all topics.
Negotiators Özdil Nami and Andreas Mavroyiannis, together with their teams, worked exhaustingly since May to put together the document – namely the Akinci-Anastasiades document – in an effort to create a common ground for negotiations.
The Akinci-Anastasiades document is branded ‘the most comprehensive document in Cyprus negotiations after the Annan Plan’ by the Turkish Cypriot leader’s spokesperson Barış Burcu.
It is viewed as a concrete demonstration of the political will of the leaders, as well as the strength and ability of their negotiators and teams.
The substantial discussions, which began on the chapters of governance, property and criteria on territory on Monday, were conducted in a very ‘constructive, respectful and positive atmosphere’ insiders said.
However, the most difficult phase has just only begun.
The negotiating teams led by Nami and Mavroyiannis are to meet at least three times a week to bridge the gaps, or divergences, in the Akinci-Anastasiades document.
The next meeting of the leaders is scheduled for July 10.
The undeclared goal of this exhausting pace is to achieve substantial progress by late October or early November, when a five-party multilateral meeting with the participation of guarantors – Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom – is envisaged, according to a Turkish Cypriot official.
The multi-lateral meeting will serve to mainly tackle the thorny issue of guarantees. Signalling that guarantees may no longer be a red line for Turkey, a number of Turkish officials have recently stated that they are open to discussing the issue in a five-party conference when the time comes and the roadmap for a solution is clearer.
During the new phase of substantial negotiations, all the unresolved core issues of the Cyprus problem – namely governance, EU affairs, economy, property, territory and security will be taken up in a holistic and interdependent manner.
The aim of both sides as well as the United Nations is to reach a comprehensive federal solution to the Cyprus problem at the earliest possible time.
Avoiding strict timeframes and calling for caution about raising unrealistic expectations, the Turkish Cypriot official stated that referenda on the reunification of Cyprus in the spring of 2016 is not out of reach provided the sides proceed at this pace and level of mutual understanding. However, as he also underlined, it is still too early to say.
Akinci, after Monday’s meeting had stated: “We will work with everything we have to take forward this negotiation process in a constructive and positive atmosphere, to create a bizonal, bicommunal federation as soon as possible and to be ready to submit it to the approval of our people. I hope this process will end in success.”
A UN official described the atmosphere of negotiations as “amazing” where the two leaders and their teams are on the table as partners of a shared future for the first time ever rather than two competitors.
Espen Barth Eide, the UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor on Cyprus, also sounded very upbeat about the mood in the negotiations after Monday’s meeting, declaring that: “Yesterday and today have probably been the best days in my current job because of the creation of this unique atmosphere of trust, and will, and leadership… I think that it is almost impossible to say that peace will not come, because peace really has a chance in Cyprus.”
A failure in this round of negotiations between Akinci and Anastasiades is likely to kill all hopes of a federal solution on the island. Therefore, Akinci and Anastasiades have on their shoulders a historic responsibility.
It remains to be seen whether the positive atmosphere will continue when the two sides will have to reach agreements on difficult core issues of the Cyprus problem such as property, territory, guarantees, which have derailed talks in the past.
However, it seems clear that one very important element that has been lacking in previous negotiations is present in the current one: empathy.