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Cyprus reunification talks – drowned out by shouting?
Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, appear to have made little headway in the conundrum that has defied generations of international diplomats.
Western diplomats and analysts on the divided Mediterranean island are starting to wonder if the euphoria that surrounded the launch of the talks in September 2008, was justified.
“They went back to the drawing board, that’s the main problem,” said Mete Hatay, a researcher for the PRIO peace institute in Nicosia.
High hopes were pinned on the two men, who come from leftist parties and enjoyed a strong relationship as opposition leaders, to make more progress than their predecessors – Glafcos Clerides
and Rauf Denktash, British-trained lawyers whose careers were identified with the Cyprus problem.
“Both of them have trouble grappling with the language and terms. They are not lawyers like Clerides and Denktash,” said a senior Western diplomat. “Christofias wants to lead by consensus but you can’t operate like that as president and Talat is in a tight corner.”
Christofias moves too slowly and Talat, anxious not to give up too much, stepped back from agreed positions, hoping to meet somewhere in the middle but frustrating his opponent, he said.
“The U.N. will not fill the gaps this time. The two leaders must finish the job and put the plan to a referendum,” the diplomat added.
Turkish Cypriots, tired of seeing little of the EU benefits enjoyed by Greek Cypriots and angered by European Court decisions on key property cases, voted in April parliamentary elections for a hardliner, Dervis Eroglu.
Talat, whose term ends in April 2010, may not be around to clinch a deal after that. With the April deadline looming, the pressure is rising for the two leaders.
“I’m not sure they can do it by April,” said Hatay. “It’s not hopeless but when Turkish Cypriots feel cornered, they can do unpredictable things.”
A case in point was the failure to open the Limnitis crossing on the eastern part of the green line dividing the island, at a time when any good news from the process was key to sustaining
momentum. Turkish Cypriot demands that petrol trucks, not just people, should be allowed to cross, have delayed agreement.
The European Union must be more directly involved and the talks must be intensified to have a chance of making it, diplomats said.
Some say there are some positive signs on the horizon – 70 percent of Greek Cypriots, who overwhelmingly rejected the last U.N. reunification plan in a 2004 referendum, voted for parties
backing a solution in the June 7 European Parliament election.
And the screaming that people close to the talks say often comes out of the negotiating room may not be all that bad either.
“Shouting and screaming is part of their intimacy,” said a Turkish Cypriot journalist. “The fact that they come out of the room smiling is proof of their strong relationship.”
(Turkish Cypriot leader Talat and Greek Cypriot leader Christofias shake hands after reunification talks in Nicosia)