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OmphalosTis Gis
a round up of developments in the Cyprus problem

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1. Christofias concerned after latest round of talks

President Dimitris Christofias was left “very concerned” with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu’s views on governance and power sharing yesterday, after the two leaders met at the UN protected area in Nicosia

Speaking after the meeting, which followed a month’s hiatus due to Eroglu having had heart surgery, Christofias said Eroglu submitted some views on the issue of governance and power sharing which were not very inspiring.

“The views were such that we need to study them. I will not make a statement now on Mr Eroglu’s views. This will happen later. In any case, they are not views for someone to be easily excited about,” he said.

The meeting was the second to last before the two leaders head off to Geneva on January 26 to meet with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

He said he didn’t want to make a statement on the issue but added that he was “very concerned”.

UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer said both sides put forward proposals, and both want to go away and consider them.

The leaders’ respective aides will meet next Wednesday and Thursday and possibly this Friday, while Christofias and Eroglu will have their final meeting before Geneva on January 21.

Asked what Ban expected of the two, given that they were unable to meet as frequently as originally scheduled, the UN official said Ban expected them to report on the progress made since the last tripartite meeting on November 18 in New York, and that they “will be able to chart a path forward from January 26”.

Apart from mapping the progress made, the two leaders will be expected to identify the “core issues” that still need to be resolved.

The Australian diplomat noted that the core issues were not difficult to put together as they’ve already been identified. The SG will discuss the leaders’ plans for taking process forward.
He predicted a “very productive meeting” in Geneva.

Asked by if Ban would set a timetable for the talks, Downer replied: “I have always argued that it is not so much a question of having a fixed date, identifying a fixed date by which it must all be concluded. What is important is that the process is a process which has momentum, which is clearly moving forward.”

The UN Special Adviser noted that around mid-October the momentum had been lost, though after the November meeting in New York with Ban, it picked up again.

On January 26, Ban will want to know how the leaders plan to take the process forward. “And he’ll want to be sure that the process has plenty of momentum, without the SG identifying a particular day of the week some time into the future by which time everything has to be signed, sealed and delivered...(but)... he wants to make sure the process has momentum.”

Downer clarified that by momentum, he meant that the two sides actually negotiate, putting forward proposals, then varying them somewhat, introducing ‘bridging proposals’ and generally trying to bridge the differences between the two positions.

“That’s what we look to the two sides to do, and that’s what I call momentum...Just sitting there exchanging views and failing to convince each other, that’s not momentum,” he said.

2. Merkel gives full support

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her full support to President Christofias’ efforts to solve the Cyprus problem during a “historic” five-hour official visit to the island on Tuesday while saying that the Turkish side was not doing enough in this regard.

“We greatly appreciate your courage, creativity shown and initiative taken to solve the problem. We see that you are taking many steps and we also see that the Turkish side is not responding adequately to your steps,” said Merkel during a joint press conference. She added that these steps “show that you are ready to make a compromise”.

“We will support the path you have chosen to solve the problem in every way we can. We know this path is not easy and that the solution must be achieved by the people of Cyprus,” she added.

The German chancellor, the first to visit Cyprus 49 years after Archbishop Makarios paid an official visit to Bonn in 1962, pledged to use her contacts with Turkish officials to promote Christofias’ efforts for a solution.

“Whenever I have the opportunity, I will speak with Turkish officials, the Prime Minister and ministers that I meet so we can help in your efforts,” she said.

Before her arrival, however, press reports speculated that Merkel was coming to let the president know the EU expected to see the problem solved and obstacles to Turkey’s EU accession path and EU-NATO cooperation removed.

The Cyprus Mail said that while the latter issues were both highlighted by Merkel as important, her unambiguous support for Christofias’ handling of the problem and public criticism of Turkey’s failure to match his efforts were clear.

Within hours, the Turkish press was accusing Merkel of continuing the war of words against Turkey reportedly started by Greek premier George Papandreou last Friday.

Merkel, raised in East Germany, said Germany wanted to do its utmost to overcome the island’s partition for two reasons: “First, we understand your position because Germany has also been a divided country. Second, Germany and Cyprus have particularly close relations in various fields.”

Specific reference was made to the recent agreement signed with the Max Planck Institute in the field of science, and the strong economic ties between the two countries.

Merkel said Germany wanted to help strengthen co-operation between NATO and the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), which is currently hampered by Turkey’s refusal to allow the EU, including Cyprus, in on NATO meetings.

“The Cyprus issue must be resolved if we are to untangle ourselves from this problem and Cyprus must be reunited, so the negotiations must continue,” she said.

On his part Christofias said: “We don’t want to hold Turkey hostage.” But at the same time Turkey cannot continue to not recognise an EU member and refuse to implement the Ankara Protocol”. He assured Merkel that he was filled with good will to solve the problem as soon as possible.

“Mrs Merkel knows better than us what a federation is. She lives in a country which is a great federation and is leader of that country. More or less, we want to create this kind of federation in Cyprus too,” he said.

The German Chancellow also got a chance to see divided Nicosia from the rooftop of the Ledra Palace Hotel, with UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer and UN Special Representative Lisa Buttenheim as her guides.

3. Turkey furious over Merkel comments

Turkey accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of “bias” and “forgetfulness” following her comments made during her visit to Cyprus, the Cyprus Mail reports.

“If Mrs Merkel had listened to both sides, she wouldn't have made such biased comments,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said during a news conference in Ankara.

A statement released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry reinforced the message to Germany, saying: “Under current circumstances, we find it thought-provoking that Germany, a leading country in the EU and a temporary member of the UN Security Council, has commented on the negotiation process in Cyprus in the light of information provided by the Greek Cypriot side only.”

According to Ankara Anatolia news agency, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a visit to Qatar on Tuesday, suggested Merkel have tea with her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder to learn a thing or two about Cyprus.

“Apparently, Merkel thinks that the Cyprus issue is a process which has begun during her term of office. It is also clear that she does not know about the history of the Cyprus issue. If she has had the chance to talk to former leader of the main opposition party, she would have known those who are responsible for the Cyprus issue.”

Erdogan went on to remind everyone that it was the Turkish Cypriots who voted ‘yes’ in the Annan Plan referenda while the Greek Cypriots rejected it yet still joined the EU.

“I guess Merkel has forgotten what she has said. It was her who said that it was wrong to admit southern Cyprus into the EU. But now, she pays a visit to the Greek Cypriot administration and makes such a statement. I call on the Chancellor to look into the history of the time, and have tea with Gerhard Schroeder,” said Erdogan.

Berlin’s responded to the criticism through Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert who was quoted by Reuters as saying: “The Chancellor knows very well it was the Greek Cypriots who turned down the UN plan in 2004. She doesn't need any historical lectures on this.”

4. Press reactions to Merkel visit

According to the Cyprus Mail, all the Turkish papers ran with the story yesterday with Zaman using the headline, “Statements by Angela Merkel that will anger Turkey”, while Cumhuriyet said, “Merkel has found the culprit for the Cyprus problem”.

The Turkish Cypriot press was less diplomatic, with daily Kibris using the headline, “Merkel’s fiasco”. Kibrisli chose not to mince its words, heading the article with: “Nasty European.”

Vatan ran with “Look what unfounded thing she said” while daily Star Kibris had: “The German queen talked big”. In its article, Haberdar spoke to a number of Turkish Cypriot politicians who voiced their anger, under the banner: “Why don’t you just shut up.”

In the same vein, daily Gunes ran with the simple yet effective: “Merkel bullshitted”.
Unsurprisingly, Merkel’s visit was seen positively across the Greek Cypriot political spectrum, encouraging a rare moment of unity.

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said her statements “were more proof that President Christofias’ policy, initiatives and efforts to solve the Cyprus problem are recognised and appreciated in Europe and internationally.”

DISY said the visit was without a doubt important and the messages “especially positive”. “It confirms that in Europe, particularly within the European People’s Party but not only, there are heads of state, political groups and potential that we must make use of,” he said. AKEL characterised the visit an “absolute success”, while EDEK welcomed Merkel’s statements, saying they “showed up Turkey’s bad faith and intransigence as the reason for the non-solution of the Cyprus problem”.

DIKO said it was “perhaps the first time that a European leader has portrayed reality in the right context and with absolute clarity”. Even one of Christofias’ fiercest critics on the Cyprus peace talks, EVROKO leader Demetris Syllouris, described the visit as “very positive”

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