The trip was marred by an unplanned visit to the ‘presidential palace’ of Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat which the UN insists was thrown on them last minute. This in turn caused a tsunami of protest from the majority of Greek Cypriot parties and a boycott of Ban’s evening reception. Only DISY and AKEL chose to attend the event and voice their concerns in person.
Meanwhile, Ban’s much anticipated press conference with the two leaders produced little of value in terms of any clarifications on what kind of “significant progress” had been made in the talks. Nothing concrete was given on the next meeting between President Demetris Christofias and Talat. And depending on which analyst you ask, the glass is either half full or half empty.
“Given the circumstances, the visit went as well as it could have gone. If nothing else, it refocused minds on the process, and brought a little bit of international focus on Cyprus,” said one diplomat.
He noted that the visit may be over but it also had an afterlife. Ban still has to brief the UN Security Council and talk to different players about what happened, what he thinks and what else can be done to support the process, he said.
The UN chief refused to take questions during his visit, but according to this diplomat, Ban seemed happy to have come to Cyprus and seen the situation for himself. “I think he feels a little bit of empathy, from a personal aspect, coming from where he does. One thing that pains him even now is that his own country, Korea, is still divided.”
A source close to the talks argued that the two leaders missed an opportunity to announce the details of the progress made so far, noting that the change of location for Ban’s visit to the north may have played a role.
“There were supposed to be more substantive announcements, but it didn’t happen. This could have been because of the time wasted dealing with that issue.
“They’ve agreed stuff, but they need to start announcing it otherwise the momentum will be lost,” he said.
With elections looming, Talat is likely to want to make public the “significant progress” made in the talks. Given that his potential replacement is the pro-partition Dervis Eroglu, Christofias might be expected to want the same.
A senior Turkish Cypriot source said the visit was “definitely positive” since Ban would now be far more concentrated on the Cyprus issue than before. “He will be personally more dedicated to help us solve it and this is a great asset for the future of the process”.
Asked to comment on the lack of detail in the leaders’ joint communiquι, he said it “reflected the compromise made between the Turkish Cypriots who were enthusiastic about announcing progress, and the Greek Cypriots who were more reserved”.
Regarding future talks, the source said in principle Christofias was not against the continuation of talks during the election campaign, but couldn’t commit on their frequency and dates until he’d checked his diary.
Tim Potier, an international law expert at the University of Nicosia, said the visit did not achieve very much, possibly due to the climate created by Ban’s non-scheduled visit to Talat’s offices, which made it “impossible to announce certain things”.
“I think we’re running out of time. It’s hard to think of a scenario where Dervis Eroglu doesn’t win on April 18. I think it’s a rather worrying situation. I don’t think Talat has really got much to campaign on. He’s been left rather naked,” he said.
Potier argued that the Greek Cypriot side were “tactically a little indulgent in leaving him so naked” by not anticipating the harm in the talks dragging on.
“Maybe they’ve not appreciated the consequences of Talat not being elected, may be they have,” he said.
The legal expert noted that the Turkish Cypriot side’s proposals on governance, which included highly confederal elements, did not help the process either. But at the end of the day, Cypriots would judge the process on the key issues like property and security, not just governance.
Potier argued that the next ten days might prove crucial in terms of what is going to be announced by the two leaders. “It’s too early to say whether things got better or worse. If nothing develops really by the end of next week then it doesn’t look good.”
By Stefanos Evripidou, CyprusMail, February 3, 2010