President Nicos Anastasiades says restarting negotiations without delay can bring peace agreement within sight, otherwise negotiations could stall or even collapse entirely.
During a crucial public televised address to the nation on Friday night, Anastasiades backed a decision over dinner Thursday with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to “start talks immediately”.
The President also called on political leaders not to air comments in an attempt to negotiate publicly and antagonise each other’s interpretations, as this would only create confusion.
A UN statement after the dinner said the talks were to start immediately on the island, followed by a conference in Geneva on January 9, where only the two sides would meet to sort out differences and submit maps two days later, on January 11. They would then hold a multi-party conference on January 12.
But the President was heavily criticised by opposition party leaders, who took a hardline position challenging the decision.
The President responded to his critics on Friday night, drawing on the consensus reached by all political leaders during an emergency National Council meeting, which called for negotiations to resume.
“Taking into account the serious risks which would come out from a long-drawn-out deadlock or even termination of the whole process, political parties held a joint view that talks should start again,” said Anastasiades.
The decision, which was announced by UN Special Advisor Espen Barth Eide, lays out a plan for the two leaders to begin intensive talks in Cyprus ahead of a meeting in Geneva, where they would agree to work out a map on territory adjustment.
President Anastasiades reiterated that the two sides would intensify their efforts in reaching an agreement on territory criteria ahead of Geneva.
“The Turkish side has accepted and is bound by the idea that submitting a map for the territory issue on a specific date is a prerequisite in this process,” he said.
Anastasiades also said that “nothing is final unless all is agreed,” arguing that this would disarm the criticism that the two sides would end up negotiating under pressure and strict deadlines.
The President made clear that the process began some 18 months ago, let alone decades, adding that setting a few dates did not amount to arbitration or harsh deadlines.