It is getting hot in Cyprus: literally, the island’s temperatures have spiked just as the Orthodox community celebrated Easter last Sunday. However, the real heat came from the 5+1 talks that took place in Geneva on April 27-29. The meeting, convened by the United Nations, brought together both sides of Cyprus and the three guarantor countries: Turkey, Greece, and the United Kingdom.
Turkey pushed for the resumption of talks that were last held in 2017- when yet another Switzerland-based meeting took place in Crans-Montana. Scenic views of the Alpine ski resort were not enough to cool down the parties and lure them into an agreement. Instead, the July 2017 meeting of Crans-Montana broke down so badly that it drowned away any hope that the Cyprus Question might be resolved. After the collapse of 2017 talks, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu declared that “this result demonstrated the impossibility of a resolution within the parameters of goodwill of the United Nations.” Çavuşoğlu asserted that a “bi-zonal, bi-communal federation” framework endorsed by the United Nations would not lead to results and that other means of resolution should be sought.
Four years later, Ankara decided that now is the time to kick off the new game plan: a two-state solution.
The “Six Point Proposal” from Ankara was presented to the parties by the Northern Cyprus President Ersin Tatar and did not exactly receive fanfare. The document essentially called for “results-oriented, time-framed” negotiations for a lasting solution once the equal status and sovereign equality of the “two states” are recognized internationally with initiative of the UN. Turkey and Northern Cypriot leadership wants to put the carriage before the horse and wants the UN to do so as well.
But why is Ankara pushing for rekindling of Cyprus Question negotiations just now?
Because Turkey puts the individual topic of the Cyprus Question in a big bundle that encapsulated also the Eastern Mediterranean Issue. Now that Ankara’s relations with Egypt, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates are picking up, why not upend the Cyprus Question as a bargaining chip with all parties involved? when turned into a component of the bigger Eastern Mediterranean Question, the Cyprus Issue may be negotiated with Greece, Egypt, Israel, the UAE, the UK, Germany, France, the U.S., and the European Union. So, Cyprus itself becomes a bargaining chip without any actual resolution in sight.
A report by the Sunday Express appeared just days prior to the 5+1 meeting, which added spice to the mystery by putting forward speculations that the UK government might consider recognizing the sovereignty of the Turkish Cypriot state. Was it Boris Johnson’s government giving the green or at least a yellow light to Ankara to move forward with a two-state solution?
The UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab was ‘colorless’ in his statement given to the Anadolu Agency, stating that “talks offer an opportunity to restart negotiations aimed at delivering a fair and lasting solution to the Cyprus issue, and we hope that all parties approach them with creativity and flexibility.”
Raab added that “The UK is a strong supporter of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Cyprus issue which remains key to resolving wider tensions in the region.” Ironically, the UK Foreign Minister’s statements before the Geneva talks were almost identical to those of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China supports “a comprehensive, fair and permanent solution to the Cyprus dispute.”
After the collapse of talks, an official from the Commonwealth & Development Office told the Cyprus News Agency that “the UK believes that a bizonal, bicommunal federation is a broad enough framework for both sides to meet their respective objectives.”
The UK has a somewhat archaic image with Turkey and Cyprus as being in pursuit of extensively deep, long-term strategic calculations and goals. Maybe in the 19th century that might have been the case; as for now-well, just look at the Brexit saga. Moreover, impossible is the new possible with the Boris Johnson government. But even mere mention of the Sunday Express report in my previous columns drew fire from Cypriots on both sides, as if I alone oversaw international recognition of the sovereignty of Northern Cyprus at the expense of a bi-communal federation.
Is the UK up for a game beyond “bi-communal and bi-zonal federation” in Cyprus? My answer is still ‘maybe’ as it was before the initiation of Geneva talks.
The BBC Turkish Service reported that Raab proposed a loose, decentralized federation-that would still fall under the definition of “bi-communal and bi-zonal.” But that does not mean the sophisticated federal arrangements and constitutional design foreseen previously by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and current Secretary General Antonio Guterres at Crans-Montana. BBC Turkish also argued that Raab presented a second option of both sides of Cyprus recognizing each other, Northern Cyprus becoming a part of the European Union, but not have recognition as its own sovereign state. Though unconfirmed, BBC Turkish’s report remains within the scope of the statement that “a bizonal, bicommunal federation is a broad enough framework for both sides to meet their respective objectives.” Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu himself stated that the UK demonstrated good intentions and made some “interesting” suggestions.
The UN General Secretary Guterres has mentioned the possibility of the resumption of 5+1 talks after three months.
Why not? The Greek Cypriots would have their parliamentary elections by the end of May. The meeting envisioned between the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Erdoğan might take place by then. There would also be ample time to negotiate and renegotiate the “Eastern Mediterranean” bundle with all parties involved and something more tangible on Cyprus might emerge until then in these ‘broad enough frameworks.