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Is it the end of the Cyprus problem?

By Tim Potier

Expectations for Crans-Montana had been set deliberately low. The disappointments of the past were guarantor of that.

The second Conference had started slow, seeming to make little progress until Antonio Guterres arrived for the first time.

Into the second week, his impact appeared to be telling. He was summoned back and, by Wednesday evening, I really believed that a deal was about to be struck.

So to Thursday and the dinner, which I have no doubt will be much chewed over during the coming decades.

By the end of the evening, I was keeping constant watch and then the news came through: the talks had collapsed. I was genuinely shocked.

More to the point I was crestfallen; being aware of the implications of their failure. If there is any consolation, that sense of emptiness was a mark of the hope that had emerged during the final 48 hours.

During the past few days failure has been converted into blame. Each side has sought to point the finger at the other.

Familiar excuses have been made: of an unwillingness to move from well-established positions to a determination to cling to unrealistic demands.

How many times before have we heard this? On previous occasions there was always the certainty that, after any hiatus, the talks would resume again, but this time is different, because no one believes there will be a next time.

It has been many years since the international community has become exhausted by the Cyprus problem.

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Even before the referendum of 2004, key individuals would tell me privately that the process was long since dead.

Nevertheless, just in case they were wrong and because they were following instructions, they continued to try.

There then followed a decade when nothing of any significance happened.

It was only, in short succession, with the election of Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci that hopes revived of, perhaps, the unexpected.

At first, things looked promising, but, within a few short months, despondency had returned.

I suppose it was a compliment to admit that if there were two men who could reach an agreement it was these two men; but last week, we discovered, after all, even that was a bridge too far.

You will have sensed already the widespread sense of anxiety. Deep down, the sides know that it is now game over.

In the main, it is not the failure to reach an agreement that matters so much, but that, in over one week of talks, the respective sides appeared to agree on almost nothing. In the end, even the most obvious of compromises still could not be made.

Thus, it was not just a matter of troops, treaties and sunset / review clauses, but a total unwillingness to find / let alone jump into any space left (as I had hinted at last week), which only confirms that, this time, the process will be declared dead.

To those who would reply that much has been achieved, that we should all be patient and give the talks another chance I reply “to what end”? I do not wish to blame any one side, because I believe (at Crans-Montana) all sides must shoulder their share of the blame.

Having lived through 2002-04, I will certainly not single out President Anastasiades, who risked his political career and caused a split in his party for what he recommended at the subsequent referendum.

However, what hope is there for a reunified and federal Cyprus when even the most fundamental of issues cannot be agreed upon? Could both communities build a functioning state together? Of course they couldn’t. It would fail (again) within a short space of time, just like 1963.

The sad fact is that Cyprus will now be permanently divided because there was never a sufficient appetite among both communities to live together and to share power together. Here, perhaps, some of us have an advantage.

Many of us lived through the events of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

After that November night, many were still, if only initially, cautious towards the idea of German reunification; but, upon reflection and watching those images again, how could anyone have ever doubted the outcome?

Nothing even close to this has ever been experienced in Cyprus.

Why? Because whilst a majority may say they want reunification, they simply do not want it enough. And so this is where the train stops. As my column’s title last week had warned: “Terminus at Crans-Montana”.

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