Cyprus talks: Did Turkey walk into a well-laid trap in Switzerland?

13 July, 2017 | Posted By: FinancialMirror Guest

By Tom Lawrence

Reactions to the breakdown of the talks to reunite Cyprus in Crans Montana last week have been predictable. The Greek Cypriots have laid the blame on Turkey, Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots, while some anonymous international sources have laid the blame on the Greek Cypriots. Others have blamed the UN for giving up before dawn. In the end, everyone will go with their own biases.

Those who are hard on the Greek Cypriots say that they never wanted to go to Crans Montana in the first place, because they never had and never will have any intention of solving the Cyprus problem, so they went to Crans Montana to wreck it.
They cite the fact that every time the Greek Cypriots have been pushed into something by the United Nations – Burgenstock in 2004, the visit of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in early 2010, and now Crans Montana – the Greek Cypriots pretend to play along, but then turn round at the last minute and kill any chance of a deal.
A sympathetic view of the Greek Cypriots would say that all they have is a perfectly reasonable wish to live in a normal EU country and that this means the end of troops and guarantees. No leader can win a referendum even with 650 troops left indefinitely on the island, so this key problem is what they have to focus on.
According to the sympathetic version, President Nicos Anastasiades went there with good intentions, but found that Turkey was unwilling to put down in writing its vague and general hints that it might consider a final date for the withdrawal of troops (the sunset clause).
The truth may be somewhere in the middle. Greek Cypriots do want an end to the Cyprus problem, but they are never quite sure they want to take the “leap of faith” that involves sharing power with people they only ever governed with for three years during a difficult period in 1960-63 that ultimately ended in political and then physical division.
That gives them a tendency to delay decisions and avoid engagement, because deep down they just hope Turkey will one day pack its bags and leave, without them having to give any ground themselves.

The communications game

Whoever is to blame, it is pretty clear that Turkey either walked into a well laid trap, or simply failed in the communications game.
The “trap” theory is based on a hard reading of Greek Cypriot intentions. If the Greek Cypriots went there to kill a deal, then their best strategy was to play on Turkey’s main weakness, ie. its stubbornness and unwillingness to bend until the very last moment, and to play to their own strengths, ie. a much better PR machine than the Turkish Cypriots or Turks.
The Greek Cypriots already implemented a clever PR ploy earlier in the week when they declared that they had made the first move with a generous offer. It turns to that it was missing critical details on a rotating presidency. But in communications, it is the message that matters. Many people bought the idea that it was Anastasiades who was showing flexibility.
Then, Turkey actually got close to bending at the very last moment. It agreed to take the sunset clause up to prime minister level. It is not clear that it would have agreed to take all of its troops out. But it was at least prepared to discuss it formally at a very high level.
If you believe that the Greek Cypriots never wanted a deal, then this was the moment of maximum danger for them. They had to find a way of killing it.
According to various reports, instead of accepting this offer, Anastasiades refused to ask the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, to come and instead asked for an offer of the sunset clause in writing. Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, would not do this without commitments in writing from Anastasiades on areas like the rotating presidency.
Anastasiades refused, so Cavusoglu went backwards, refusing to offer a sunset clause. With everyone screaming at each other, a tired Secretary-General Antonio Guterres did not call a break or try to carry on until dawn. He simply shut it down.
Under the “hard on Greek Cypriots” theory, this was the best outcome for them. “Intransigent Turkey” had responded just as expected and Cavusoglu delighted them even more by declaring the UN parameters finished.
The Greek Cypriots got straight onto the journalists, saying they had tried everything but sadly Turkey did not comply. Most of the Greek Cypriot population believed them. Mission accomplished.

The sympathetic version

The “sympathetic to Greek Cypriots” version says that Anastasiades could not take the risk of using up the time of three prime ministers if he was not sure of the outcome, so this is why he needed the sunset offer in writing.
Maybe he was also afraid that a deal would be done with the three prime ministers that suited Greece, Turkey and the UK better than it suited Cyprus.
He was also, as one commentator put it, “tired and emotional”, so some have criticised the UN for stopping it right there, instead of giving everyone a break and starting again in the morning.
Whatever the truth, Turkey lost the communications game. All along the Greek Cypriots were faster at getting their message out. The fact that the international commentators are more critical of the Greek Cypriots is immaterial.
If you really want to end the Cyprus problem, you have to bring the Greek Cypriots with you. Turkey has failed to do it before and it failed again at Crans Montana.

Tom Lawrence is a former diplomat