Political resolve fuels hope over Cyprus

Turkey has made a diplomatic jumpstart to 2016.

The settlement of dormant conflicts gained momentum with the Nov. 24, 2015, downing of a Russian jet as Turkey felt the urge to enhance its security ties with NATO and reinvigorate negotiations for EU membership while seeking ways to mend the broken ties with countries such as Israel and Egypt in order to diversify its economic markets and energy resources.

In this context, the Cyprus issue, which continues to loom over Ankara’s potential EU membership, has regained importance.

The settlement of the Cyprus conflict is crucial in terms of maintaining security in the Mediterranean during such a tumultuous period. It will also provide a healthier ground for energy cooperation between Turkey and Israel and thus contribute to Europe’s energy security.

Will peace find a chance?

Long-stalled peace talks have been reinvigorated following Mustafa Akıncı’s election as northern Cypriot president last April. Akıncı’s goodwill and faith in the reunification of Cyprus found resonance with his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Nikos Anastasiades.

The synergy between the two has even enabled them to set a timeline for the resolution of the Cyprus conflict by March. Indeed, as a result of intense negotiations, the parties have reached a common understanding on the main issues – even if they are still short a full agreement.

In this respect, the declarations made by Akıncı and Anastasiades at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week were encouraging.

While Anastasiades said 2016 could be the year to end the unacceptable status quo, Akıncı reiterated his determination to achieve a mutually acceptable solution based on a bi-zonal federation with political equality as well as European values and principles.

Amid the good news from Davos, Turkey hosted last week U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is known for his close ties with the Greek lobby and his efforts for the resolution of Cyprus. During a joint press meeting, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu thanked Biden for visiting Cyprus in 2014 and said the U.S. would play an important role in Cyprus peace talks.

Indeed, with the wind at his back following the Iranian nuclear deal, the settlement of the Cyprus issue presents an opportunity for U.S. President Barack Obama to build on his legacy before he leaves office.

Just as diplomatic efforts over Cyprus are accelerating, Istanbul Kültür University’s Global Political Trends Center (Gpot) organized a roundtable meeting last week hosting Andros Kyprianou, general-secretary of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL), who was scheduled to have a meeting with both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Ministry the next day.

When asked about the current state of the peace talks, Kyprianou said he remained hopeful, while underlining three focal points requiring settlement: power sharing, property rights and security.

According to Kyprianou, the sides have largely reached a consensus on how to share executive power. However, little progress has been made regarding the property rights of refugees.

The people who lost their homes have three options ahead – return, resettlement or compensation.

Kyprianou said the amounts of compensation proffered by leaders are an exaggeration, and claims that without knowing the number of people who would apply for the compensation option, it is not possible to determine the exact amount to be paid as compensation.

Since neither the Greek nor Turkish side is able to undertake the financial burden of compensation, they have both turned to third parties such as the EU and the U.S. for financial assistance – something that Kyprianou describes as the cost of peace in Cyprus.

As for the most troubling part of the negotiations, security, Kyprianou particularly emphasizes the future positions of the guarantor states.

Despite the sincere commitment of the parties, it would seem unlikely that a settlement will be reached before the Greek Cypriot parliamentary elections in May. However, shared economic and security interests in the region create a strong incentive for all parties to benefit from the resolution of the Cyprus issue.

Particularly, diplomatic resolve of the parties presents an unprecedented window of opportunity that shouldn’t go wasted.

Thus, 2016 marks a critical year for Cyprus.