Downer to meet both Cypriot presidents today

UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer will be holding separate meetings with President Anastasiades and President Eroglu today.

Downer returned to Cyprus on Monday for a series of contacts aimed at preparing the ground for the start of a new round of peace talks.

He held separate meetings with the two leaders’ appointed negotiators on Monday, Andreas Mavroyiannis and Osman Ertug. On Tuesday, he hosted a dinner at the Chateau restaurant in the UN buffer zone for both negotiators. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus Lisa Buttenheim was also present at the dinner.

Specifically, Downer will probably want to know whether the two leaders agree to start talks from where they were left off between President Eroglu and former president Demetris Christofias. He has already provided both leaders with a document containing the convergences and divergences as recorded by the UN during the last phase of talks between 2008 and 2012.

The vast majority of convergences were recorded during the first two years of talks between Christofias and Eroglu’s predecessor Mehmet Ali Talat.

Anastasiades has so far refused to confirm that the document of convergences will be used as a basis for the talks. One of his pre-election pledges was to withdraw certain proposals tabled by Christofias on a rotating presidency and weighted voting between the two communities.

Sensing an opening, Eroglu has sent a letter to the president asking him directly to agree on using the ‘Downer document’ as a basis for talks.

Downer’s visit is expected to last a week, after which he will will head off to Turkey, to meet with Turkish Foreign Minister, Davutoglu and then on to UN Headquarters in New York for further consultations ahead of the restart of peace talks, aimed for mid-October.

Anastasiades will also be crossing the Atlantic to attend his first UN General Assembly as president. On the sidelines of the UN session, the president is expected to hold a series of bilateral meetings with heads of state and government, as well as pay UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a call.

During his election campaign, Anastasiades pledged to seek the direct involvement of Turkey and the EU in any future peace talks, noting that the Cypriot-led and Cypriot-owned process of his predecessor Christofias had failed to produce results.

Anastasiades and Foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides are also keen to push the notion of a mega confidence-building measure to shake-up the stale environment, hampered by a deep mistrust between the sides.

This would come in the form of returning the fenced off part of the town of Maras to the South under UN control, in return for the opening to international traffic of Famagusta port and unfreezing of certain chapters in Turkey’s EU accession process.

Should Turkey set the opening of Ercan airport to international traffic as a condition, then the Greek Cypriot negotiating team have already prepared the legal conditions that must be met to allow such a step.

While the Turkish Cypriot leadership is keen to stress Turkey would never agree to giving up its best card in negotiations, Maras, the Greek Cypriots are of the view Turkey is potentially willing to talk shop.

The Greek Cypriot government has already used informal backchannels of communication in an effort to send certain messages to Ankara and at the same time sound out how serious the Turkish government is about finally reaching a deal on the Cyprus problem.

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