Washington may want Turkey and Cyprus to make nice, but whether that desire can actually influence peace talks is an entirely different matter.
EU membership talks are set to begin on November 5. Vice President Biden is interested in a resolution, according to a White House meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in September. “The U.S. remains committed to a re-unified Cyprus as a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation,” Biden said in anticipation of a new round of negotiations attempting to end the decades-old conflict.
Cyprus has been a flashpoint since 1974 when a Greek-supported coup prompted Turkey to invade the country. The conflict escalated in 1983 when Turkish Cypriots declared an independent state: the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
The October talks will be the first ever round of direct negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders.
Despite decades of unsuccessful mediation, earning Cyprus the nickname “the graveyard of diplomats,” analysts do see cause for optimism. Didem Akyei Collinsworth, International Crisis Group analyst, told TCF:
“There are some hopes that things will be different this time. Anastasiades has a more realistic approach that favors a looser federation that is closer to what the Turkish Cypriots and Turks desire. Plus, the shock of the Euro-crisis may have made the Greek Cypriot public opinion more realistic, too.”
The Turks have demonstrated their readiness for an agreement in the past. “In 2004, when the Annan Plan was presented for referendum, the Turkish side voted in favor and the Greek side voted against it, so there’s definitely a willingness on the Turkish side to solve this issue,” said Gallia Lindenstrauss, Institute for National Security Studies analyst, in an interview.
Settling the Shore
One issue could get in the way, however. The sovereignty of Cypriot natural gas fields, some of which Turkey claims belong to the TRNC, is only recognized by its patron.
While Anastasiades announced natural gas will not be part of the talks, Cyprus has made no indication it intends to heed Turkey’s warning against exploiting its offshore Aphrodite field before a settlement is reached.
The country is in such poor financial shape it cannot afford to wait. Turkey has already resorted to desperate measures, including suspending energy projects with ENI due to the Italian company’s involvement in Greek Cypriot energy exploration.
Given the current landscape, it is questionable whether U.S. interests will play a role in determining the outcome. Previous performance, says Lindenstrauss, does not indicate Washington is all-in. “What I see as worrying is that the European Union and also the U.S. haven’t used these economic problems to push the Cypriots forward,” she said. “I think that was a big mistake with the Annan Plan—that they didn’t condition Cyprus’ acceptance to the EU upon accepting the plan.”
Vice President Biden’s meeting with Anastasiades certainly demonstrates a renewed American interest in a settlement, but it will likely not translate into third-party influence. When it comes to Cyprus and Turkey, Washington has already failed to use key leverage to incentivize an agreement. If and when direct talks do happen, the U.S. will have to accept its position on the sidelines.
Photo credit: Flickr, Creative Commons