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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Negotiating guidelines for Messrs Christofias and Talat ]

Negotiating guidelines for Messrs Christofias and Talat

THE GREEK and Turkish Cypriots are about to start negotiations to solve the Cyprus problem. It is said that 90 per cent of this kind of negotiations take place at home, not with the other side. This is because the moderates of each side have to win over their own hardliners.

The heated political exchanges surrounding the opening of Ledra Street are a good example of the internal sniping that erupts when you start dealing with the other side. It is not hard to imagine what will happen when the real negotiations begin. The opening of Ledra Street may have been highly symbolic, but in reality it was a trivial event; just another passage through the Green Line. Inevitably, however, there will be increasingly strident objection on either side to any move that will be perceived as a concession to the “enemy”.

How then should Messrs Christofias and Talat conduct their negotiations? Here is a ten-point guide to avoid the mistakes of the negotiations in 2004.

First, they should be aware that they will not satisfy everybody. They will be criticised and denounced. If they cannot tolerate criticism, they should stop now. Concessions and compromises will have to be made by both sides. These are in the nature of any negotiation. Those whose interests will be sacrificed for the broader benefit of each community will try to scupper any agreement.

Second, they need to prevent critical voices from becoming a chorus of dissent. They have to manage public opinion and prepare it for concessions, some of which are bound to be painful. They have to keep emphasising the positive effects of a settlement of the Cyprus problem. This is not likely to be easy. Even the most fervent proponents of the infamous Annan plan failed to give prominence to whatever gains it could possibly bring. They kept talking about the abstract need for reconciliation and peace, whereas most Greek Cypriots did not see any tangible benefits. After all, the pursuit of peace is rather meaningless when there are no hostilities between the two sides. Messrs Christofias and Talat should also rehearse the arguments in favour of any agreement or solution within their negotiating teams. On the Greek Cypriot side, the teams include the same old hands. Yes, they have the experience, but they also have their prejudices and blind spots created by many years of defending the same policy line. The quality of work of those teams will improve if they also include new people with different opinions and hopefully fresh ideas. It is fresh ideas that are always in short supply in negotiations on old problems.

Third, they need to keep the public informed. Absolute secrecy will not do. Not only will secrecy offer a golden opportunity to opponents to fill the information vacuum with disinformation, but more importantly, people are entitled to know how the negotiations will be progressing. They should be given a sense of ownership of the results.

Fourth, too much information on sensitive issues is counterproductive. It will only help small opposition groups to coalesce into a stronger force. Naturally, all those who fear that they will lose out will take pre-emptive action rather than wait to see whether indeed they will lose out. The two leaders should commit themselves to the following principle: no one will necessarily be penalised and those who end up bearing the brunt of any concessions will be compensated.

Fifth, they should go first for easy wins. This will prove that progress is possible. The corollary of this point is that difficult subjects should be left to be tackled last. It will be easier to achieve agreement on sensitive issues towards the end because then the cost of failure will be clearer. It will be the abandonment of all the issues on which agreement had already been achieved and presumably were thought to be beneficial to both sides.

Sixth, they should not place themselves in an impossible time schedule. They should give themselves ample time to do their work properly, but towards the end when negotiations will become more difficult they should set binding deadlines.

Seventh, they should not be tempted to “screw” the other side and extract maximum concessions. If they do that they will make it even more difficult for the other side to secure consent from its people. In the longer run, they will also make it more difficult for the other side to stick to the agreement.

Eighth, the negotiations are bound to get stuck at some point. If the Cyprus problem were easy it would have been solved a long time ago. So they need to think at the outset what they will do when they reach an impasse. There are several possible arrangements that can be agreed beforehand in order to resolve any subsequent negotiating impasse. For example, they may request mediation by an independent party. There will also be requests from either side for transitional periods and temporary exemptions. The principle that should guide the drafting of transitional periods and exemptions should be that they will automatically lapse at some predetermined point in time unless either side requests their continuation. This too could be subject to independent mediation.

Ninth, they should commit themselves to support whatever agreement they reach. It would make no sense to agree on something and then fail to support it later on when it will be debated within their respective political processes.

Tenth, any agreement will involve an element of trust and, therefore, risk. It is natural that they will want to minimise this risk. However, they should not expect that they will eliminate it altogether. Admittedly, if they botch up the negotiations or the outcome is perceived to be too unfavourable for their side, they may end up losing their jobs. It is the nature of democracy. The people vote out of office those they do not want. If Messrs Christofias and Talat like their jobs too much, then they are not the right persons for this kind of negotiations. But here politics resembles business. Risk brings rewards. They may lose their jobs, but if they do it right they may also secure a place in history.
I wish them success.

Phedon Nicolaides is Professor at the European Institute of Public Administration, Maastricht (NL), and Visiting Professor at the Cyprus International Institute of Management.
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(Source: Cyprus Mail)



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