February Books 8) Cyprus: The Search for a Solution

8) Cyprus: The Search for a Solution, by David Hannay

I’ve just been given responsibility for Cyprus at work, so this book recounting the experiences of the chief British negotiator on the Cyprus problem between 1996 and 2003 seemed a good way to get into it.

Of course it will be mainly of historical interest now; much of his story depends on the personalities of the two main negotiators from the island, Clerides and Denktash, and Denktash will follow Clerides into retirement in May this year. Also the fundamental dynamics of the problem changed in 2004, after Hannay’s engagement had finished, with the Turkish Cypriots (other than Denktash) now really keen to reach an agreement and the Greek Cypriots not quite in the same place; for most of the last thirty years it had been the other way round.

I had to smile at his reference to a “group of Belgian academics of Turkish ethnicity” who eased the Turkish Cypriots (and the rest of the process) over one particular hurdle. I am pretty sure he is referring to this (Word) document, which includes me in the acknowledgements (and I think I may have written a sentence or two of the electoral system section). Neither of the two credited authors possesses either Turkish ethnicity or Belgian citizenship.

I was aware of a lot of the basics about the situation from general background reading and from previous dabbling. Two things that I learnt particularly from this account were, first, the way in which everyone (Hannay in particular, one supposes, though he is modest about this) bent over backwards to assure the maximum possible synergy between the EU accession process and the settlement negotiations; secondly, that at a late stage in the day the British added some extra lubrication to the negotiations by offering to give up almost half of the UK sovereign base territory on the islands.

Despite all this, of course, the talks failed. Hannay concludes (in a judgement that I think has general applicability):

…the negotiations between 1999 and 2003 did, in my view, demonstrate that external pressures and assistance do have their limitations and cannot, unaided, deliver a settlement. On no previous occasion were external pressures applied so consistently and in such a sustained manner; on no previous occasion was the raw material that emerged from the views of the two sides so skilfully blended and merged. And yet all that was not enough to achieve an agreement.

Or put more briefly, you can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

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