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Media Watch 2004

14 February 2004
Source: Cyprus Mail
Author: Jean Cristou
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Mail of Nicosia on 14 February 2004.
A hollow victory? How a 90-minute meeting turned into an unholy trial

IT FELL a few hours short of being ‘The Valentine’s Day Deal’ but may yet have the ignominy of being known as ‘The Friday the 13th Agreement’ Whether or not that will prove prophetic remains to be seen. It started off on Tuesday night with what was meant to be a one-off meeting to decide the terms for the resumption of talks. Kofi Annan simply asked the sides to work within a tight timetable, show the necessary political will, and commit to referenda irrespective of the out come of negotiations. In addition to this Ankara had offered last month to allow Annan to fill in the blanks on unresolved issues. None of the terms were acceptable to the two sides. The two-hour meeting produced no results. At Wednesday night’s meeting Denktash pulled out the roadmap he had been given by Turkey and presented it asking that the Greek Cypriot side come back with its answer. The Turkish proposals were similar to Annan’s but included the Secretary-general filling in the blanks with the aid of Greece and Turkey instead of alone. That meeting lasted 90 minutes – or so we thought. It was revealed yesterday that the meeting actually lasted only 15 minutes because upon hearing Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s very public warning that he better not mess up, Denktash decided to fly home. He was talked away from the edge by diplomats and a phone call from Erdogan. With Denktash back in line, a third meeting was scheduled so the Greek Cypriot side could respond to the Turkish side’s proposals but instead President Tassos Papadopoulos decided to ask that the EU be given a role, which threw everyone off. The Turkish Cypriot side obviously thought it was going to be a done deal. Annan liked Turkey’s ideas so it was just a matter of the Greek Cypriots agreeing or disagreeing. If it was the latter, so much the better. The Turks could be the good guys for a change. So sure were they of their favourable position, the Turkish Cypriot delegation had packed their bags to come home – but ended up missing their flight. The EU demand by the Greek Cypriots resulted in 12 straight hours of negotiations with the big guns – Greece and Turkey – called in. That was at 2.30am Cyprus time. The four parties had separate rooms and UN envoy Alvaro de Soto spent his time shuttling between all four to work out a compromise deal. Yesterday when a Turkish journalist said US State Department Coordinator Thomas Weston had spent more time shuttling between the rooms, De Soto retorted: “Were you on the 33rd floor? I’m just trying to guess how you could possibly establish the comparison. “Tom Weston and I are not in competition but I’m just curious about how you reached that conclusion. I assure you we were not sleeping.” The Secretary-general was sleeping. “Yesterday when I left at 8pm (New York time) we had a text that the parties were looking at and they all had rooms on the 33rd floor. The four delegations had a room each, and Alvaro was shuttling between them to see they would agree to the proposal I had put to them, and they worked rather late. I think some of them had only about two hours of sleep, but they are much younger than I am and they can take it. In the end we did get the agreement and we met at 10.30 this morning and everybody signed on,” Annan said at his news conference yesterday announcing the deal. It was patently obvious that the UN was not letting the sides leave New York without a deal. UN Deputy Secretary-general Sir Kieran Prendergast said early yesterday that talks would “last as long as it takes” A spokesman for the Greek Foreign Ministry, told the press after more than twelve hours of shuttling that the Greek Cypriot side had submitted three compromise proposals, which were turned down by the Turkish side. Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ugur Ziyal said that “the demand of the Greek Cypriot side and Greece for inclusion of EU in Cyprus solution process could bring in other demands, therefore Turkey and TRNC didn't accept it”. Denktash said the proposal had taken up 11 hours of the time “for the sake of one paragraph”. "We have bent as much as we could. If we bend a little more, we will break,” he said. Ankara accused the Greek Cypriots of “trying to kill the process by throwing in the EU herring”, a senior Turkish government official said. Taken by surprise, Brussels said it was not seeking an official role in the negotiations and would only accept such a role if it were acceptable to all sides. “This was never a condition for our assistance," Commission enlargement spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori said. In the end the compromise vaguely refers to a financial and technical role for the EU but no political participation whatsoever, Annan made clear, suggesting a hollow victory for the Greek Cypriot side, and indeed the Turkish Cypriot side, which have both come away from New York agreeing to all the demands they both opposed in the first place."