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By John Helmer, Moscow

“In war”, Thucydides lectured the Hellenes 2,400 years ago, “opportunity waits for no man.”

Last Thursday evening, when President Donald Trump was prepping for negotiations with President Vladimir Putin, the Hellenes gave the two of them an object lesson in how the weak may defeat an attack of apparently overwhelming force. Their opportunity was to say Οχι – that’s Greek for no.

That took Recep Tayyip Erdogan (lead image, right), the omnipotent  ruler of Turkey,  the US and British governments, and Espen Barth Eide (left),  the United Nations (UN) negotiator representing their alliance, by surprise.  The deceit of his schemes exposed, Eide’s name is dishonoured, his career is kaput.

Eide has been in charge of the negotiations between the Greek Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish occupying forces in northern Cyprus since August 2014.  In almost three years,  Eide had “done everything possible to bring closer the positions of the different delegations”, announced UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres,  just after midnight last Friday morning, as he acknowledged “an agreement was not possible.” For Guterres’s speech, and his brief responses to press questions – Eide remained silent beside him — click to watch

For the backfile on Eide’s role in the negotiations before the end, and Eide’s career history promoting US interests in his native Norway, read this

Foreground, back to camera, Eide is 2nd from right; Cyprus President Nikos Anastasiades is seated on Eide’s right; Guterres on Eide’s left.  Opposite side of the table:  Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu  is 4th from left); Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias is standing at podium.. The European Union foreign policy representative Frederica Mogherini is  seated in front of him,  to his left.

The end for the negotiations, and for Eide, came at this dinner in a Swiss alpine hotel last Thursday evening, July 6.  

That was when Turkish officials led by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu  said Turkey would consider reducing the force which invaded Cyprus in 1974, and has occupied one-third of the island since then, in fifteen further years’ time. That’s to say, in the year 2032. At that point, Cavusoglu   said the Turks would consider reducing their current force of 30,000 to 650 men – the number which had preceded the invasion. When the troop review rolls around, whatever force reduction they might then agree to, Cavusoglu said Turkey would reserve the right to “guarantee” the Turkish Cypriot community’s security with whatever military reinforcements and arms they considered fit, without limit of time.

The Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias responded  that it was clear to the Greek and Cypriot governments that Turkey has no intention of giving up “its rights to invade Cyprus. I pressed him,  and he replied that we want them so that we can do whenever we want to do so in Cyprus.” 

“At the dinner that lasted for over five hours, [Cyprus President] Nikos Anastasiades was persistently asking Mr. Cavusoglu to say and record what he meant, something that [Greece Prime Minister] Alexis Tsipras asked,  too. Mr. Cavusoglu said I cannot give anything in writing. The UN Secretary-General who is a venerable man, [Cavusoglu said] will sum up all the sentences in a paragraph.”

In response to Cavusoglu’s insistence on a 15-year period for reduction of forces, Kotzias said “the army’s stay is incompatible with western civilization and there can be no Turkish army on the island of Cyprus. Throughout the discussions, Mr Cavusoglu said the UN Secretary-General understands.  Mr. Guterres said they cannot tell us what the Turks want. When the UN Secretary General realized he was lying to him, he told us everything, and the Turks denied what he said.”

“It would be a big mistake to identify the UN with Mr. Eide. The UN is spoken for by the UN Secretary-General. The mediator [Eide] became a lobbyist, made bilateral relations [with Turkey]. He came to Athens and before coming to us, he went to the Turkish Embassy in Athens. Only later did he come to us afterwards, and later he held meetings in the homes of journalists in the northern suburbs.”

October 28, 2014, Eide starts his mission at Cavusoglu’s Foreign Ministry office in Ankara; on the wall, the founder of the Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. At the negotiating table last week, in front of Eide, Cavusoglu said: “The expectation of the Greek Cypriot side and of Greece is to remove the guarantees and not to leave the Turkish army in Cyprus. From this dream they must wake up.” 

There had been no “shipwreck” of the talks, Kotzias summed up at the dinner.  “Finally, there was the issue of guarantees and security for the first time [on the agenda] at the level of the negotiating principals. But that’s only a passing phase, and negotiations must continue to solve the problem. This exists because there is an army of occupation in a country of the UN and the EU, so the Cyprus issue remains. The idea that Turkey can annex the occupied parts of Cyprus is an old one, but this is Turkey’s worst option because it has a terrible international cost.”

Eide retaliated by leaking his version of what happened at the dinner to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet in Ankara,  and to the Cyprus Mail in Nicosia, an outlet of the UK High Commission in Cyprus. The Mail went first, publishing this story  the day after the dinner concluded. Quoting what was called “a UN source that spoke to the Mail on condition of anonymity”, Cavusoglu had “’conceded in private to us [Eide]’ that Turkey would be prepared to accept an end to guarantees and rights of intervention… Turkey had also consented to a clause in Guterres’ framework for negotiations for the Crans-Montana [Swiss resort] talks, which stipulated a fall-back to the 1960 Treaty of Alliance figures for Greek and Turkish troops on the island – 950 and 650 respectively – with final decisions on whether these were to withdraw altogether, and when, to be made ‘at a higher level’, meaning the three guarantors’ prime ministers. ‘When we signalled this to Anastasiades, he started insisting on zero troops,’ the source [Eide] said. ‘He [Anastasiades] simply didn’t want it.’”

The Cyprus Mail was also briefed by a British diplomat in Nicosia. He is referred to as “another diplomatic source”. “Another diplomatic source shared a similar account in which Cavusoglu went out on a limb but soon reverted to Turkey’s publicly stated positions after Anastasiades demanded that he commit to the offered concessions formally. ‘It was so close – it could have happened if Anastasiades had been willing to engage,’ the well-informed source said. ‘Turkey was willing to give hugely on intervention rights, and there was a possibility on the guarantees, maybe [after] a couple of years, with even the possibility of getting rid of it from Day One. There would also have been less troops. [But] Anastasiades wanted it in writing.’”

The day after this story appeared in Nicosia, Hurriyet repeated Eide’s leak  in Ankara. “Cyprus Mail, a Greek Cypriot newspaper, blamed Greek Cyprus President Nikos Anastasiades for the failure of an international conference for the reunification of the island, citing anonymous United Nations officials who said the Greek Cypriot president had insisted on ‘zero troops, zero guarantees,’ despite the fact that the Turkish side announced its readiness to withdraw a large majority of troops and give up its intervention rights. The Cyprus Mail reported that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had conceded in private to the U.N. that Ankara would be prepared to accept an end to guarantees and rights of intervention, basing its story on the information provided by a U.N. official.”

Hurriyet added: “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed Ankara’s sadness at the failure of the conference. ‘Turkey’s genuine and moderate stance, as well as its devoted efforts, have not received the adequate response. Frankly speaking, we are saddened by this result. The picture we have after long-standing efforts display the fact [that] finding a solution to the Cyprus problem under the U.N.’s goodwill mission parameters is impossible. There is no meaning in insisting on these parameters,’ he said.” This was Erdogan’s dismissal of the role Guterres had played, not Eide.

July 7, 2017 --the day after dinner, and the end of the Cyprus talks:  left, Guterres meets Erdogan in Hamburg; right: President Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (orange dress), Foreign Minister Cavusoglu.  

Eide’s leak was late. His story also left out the crucial details which Anastasiades, Tsipras and Kotzias had already agreed to, put in writing, and handed directly to Guterres, on his request,  the day before the dinner. This proposed an 18-month period for Turkey to withdraw its troops and arms from Cyprus, and the cancellation of the guarantees originally established between the UK, Greece and Turkey when Cyprus became independent of British colonial rule in 1960. The troop withdrawal should start immediately after signing of the new pact, the Cyprus-Greek paper proposed. In the transition period an international force of 2,000 men would take over the security of the north. That force would be commanded by an officer from a European state. It would be a European unit, not a UN force. 

Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the UN, told the Cyprus Mail: “[Guterres] is straining every muscle to get the Cyprus talks over the lines… He is straining every muscle to get these talks over the lines. It’s a historic opportunity. There is still some distance between the parties. We are doing everything we can – as a guarantor in Cyprus – as well.” In fact, Rycroft and Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary, were working to prevent the replacement of Turkish forces with a European  peacekeeping unit. They were also determined to preserve the British right for guaranteeing the security of the island by maintaining the two military bases the British have kept on Cyprus since the colonial administration.

The British counted on Cavusoglu to dismiss the new Cyprus-Greek paper, and he did. “There is nothing new there,” Cavusoglu was quoted as telling the Cyprus Mail. 

The US then moved to stop the proposal gaining support from Guterres and from the EU foreign minister Frederica Mogherini, who had joined the talks in Switzerland the day before. “The Vice President urged President Anastasiades and [Northern Cypriot leader] Mr Akinci,” according to the the US press release, “to seize this historic opportunity to reunify the island and expressed his confidence in both leaders’ ability to secure a settlement that would reunify Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation.”

Greek and Cypriot sources say Pence tried persuading Anastasiades to withdraw the requirement for a fixed 18-month troop withdrawal period; to accept a much longer transition before a review by the three guarantor powers; , and to abandon the zero-force outcome at the end, the sunset.  Guterres and Mogherini were both asked by Pence to press Anastasiades  to say whether, if the foreign guarantees were scrapped, he would agree to more flexibility, more time,  and more ambiguity on the process of Turkish withdrawal and sunset.

Kotzias and Anastasiades agreed to say no. Dinner followed.

Anastasiades disclosed later that Guterres had not moved in the direction of the  US and Turkish pressure.  “What I want to make absolutely clear,” Anastasiades told a press conference on July 10 at home, is that “the Greek Cypriot side is ready to negotiate a solution within the parameters set by the United Nations Secretary General.” The parameters required the end of the three-power protectorate; a fixed withdrawal period; sunset for Turkish military occupation.

“The parameters for the negotiations… included a new security system and not a continuation of the old one, plus an end to unilateral rights of intervention, and an end to the Treaty of Guarantee. ‘Current guarantors are not able to implement and supervise themselves in the implementation of the solution,’ Anastasiades said quoting from the parameters’ document. As far as troops were concerned, there should be, according to the UN document, a drastic reduction of troops from the first day and then a reduction to 1960 levels while agreeing the timetable for withdrawal and surveillance mechanisms.”

According to Anastasiades, “at the conference, the Turkish Foreign Minister presented the Turkish proposal, which… provided that the Treaty of Guarantee remain in force and be extended to the constituent states separately and that the Treaty of Alliance would continue to exist without the three-member stationing of troops. Turkey also proposed its troop numbers be significantly withdrawn and then reduced to an agreed number, that implementation of the solution would be supervised by a committee bringing together a representative from Turkey, Britain and Greece, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot by the federal government one each from the constituent states, and a representative of the UN but excluding the EU.

‘As was expected, both we and the Greek Foreign Minister rejected the Turkish proposal,’ said Anastasiades.”

The British attacked Anastasiades through Patroclos, the pseudonym of the Cyprus Mail’s editor and owner, Kyriacos Iacovides. “He persisted with zero troop demand at the Last Supper, which turned into a slanging match between the two sides, with Nik [Anastasiades] doing most of the shouting,” the editorialist claimed. “He had set a series of conditions… he knew the Turks would never accept.”

Greek sources close to Kotzias are critical of Anastasiades for loss of nerve. “President Anastasiades can be held responsible for much. For the backpedalling he made with the proposals he filed last Thursday… He seemed to move without compass and orientation.  But one cannot accuse him for the deadlock and the collapse of the process… Responsibility for this is borne by Turkey and [Eide] for their handling.”

A veteran Cypriot official says the combination of firmness from Kotzias and the weakness of Trump Administration officials was decisive in deterring Anatasiades from the concessions the Turks and Eide demanded.  “The Turks have been predictable from beginning to end. So, in his own way, was Anastasiades. He was under the control of the Americans until Clinton lost the election in November, and [Assistant Secretary of State Victoria] Nuland was forced out of the State Department. Nuland had controlled Anastasiades.”

For details of the Nuland plan for substituting a NATO protectorate over Cyprus, while allowing Turkish forces to remain indefinitely, read this. For the personal leverage Nuland exercised over Anastasiades, read more

“Eide tried arm-twisting,” comments the Cypriot official. “He was as devious as Nuland, but compared to her, Eide has no muscle to speak of.”

The Cypriot source adds:  “Anastasiades has calculated he will be better off for re-election if he sided with Kotzias, sidestepped Eide, and ignored the British. Patroclos and the Cyprus Mail discredited their British masters with fake news and absolutely no facts.”

The Greek and Cyprus sources agree that the Russian government’s public opposition to a foreign protectorate in Cyprus, whether Turkish or British, has reinforced Kotzias but had little impact on the final outcome.

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