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Peace referenda in March 2016

Foreign diplomats have high hopes that both sides will hit the ground running when Cyprus peace talks start in the second half of May.

Their optimism follows the election of pro-reconciliation Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci last Sunday.

The UN’s Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, Espen Barth Eide, will be on the island on Monday, expecting to confirm plans with the two leaders.

During the same period, President Anastasiades and Akinci will be meeting on their own, hoping to secure an understanding of how best to proceed and to devise a path for discussing Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), with the closed town of Varosha at the forefront.

A preliminary schedule, drawn up before Akinci’s victory, suggests that intense negotiations will take place until the end of summer, starting immediately after the June 7 general election in Turkey.

The objective is that the two sides will first attempt to make difficult trade-offs between chapters, an approach that has not been previously attempted in the negotiation process.

Diplomatic sources told the Cyprus Weekly that the UN team will encourage the sides to think creatively and swiftly engage in a tough give-and-take on all thorny aspects of the Cyprus problem, namely property, territory, governance and security.

Pairings for possible trade-offs were made last September, before the process was derailed by Turkey’s dispatch of the seismic vessel Barbaros for surveys in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Towards the end game
International players have started working on the premise that the presence of Akinci at the helm will allow all parties to be bolder at the table and draw the basic parameters of an agreement by autumn.

Public statements by the new leader in the north have been well-received. The confidence building measures unilaterally announced by Anastasiades this week were equally appreciated abroad.

Ideally, September’s UN General Assembly will provide Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with the opportunity to engage personally and verify progress.

The Cyprus Weekly understands that an optimistic estimate provides for autumn to be a period of consolidation, in which all sides will have the opportunity to beef up an initial agreement.

The consolidation period will be followed by the so-called ‘endgame’, most likely an international conference at the beginning of 2016, to seal an agreement and allow leaders to start selling it to their respective sides.

Under this scheduling, the process could be completed with dual referenda, preferably held at the end of March.  Current estimates abroad and in Cyprus suggest that the period to work out a deal will start after Turkey’s elections and finish just before May 2016 parliamentary elections in the Republic of Cyprus.

All actors also believe that the said period will be free of gas drilling or other hydrocarbon activities.

There is wide acceptance that Turkey will react badly to any serious continuation of energy activity within Cyprus’s EEZ – an undesirable development that will again derail the process.

Much of the above planning will be finalised on the understanding that Anastasiades and Akinci can form a good personal relationship, find some chemistry, abandon separatist agendas and work for a reunified island.

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