1988-90 Vassiliou-Denktas Meetings
The politics of the settlement process appeared to change significantly when Greek Cypriots elected George Vassiliou president in February 1988. Vassiliou, a successful businessman with no important political party base (although his parents were founding members of the island's communist party, the Progressive Party of the Working People (Anorthotikon Komma Ergazomenou Laou-- AKEL), campaigned on a pledge to solve the Cyprus problem with new vigor and creativity. His upset victory over Spyros Kyprianou seemed to indicate popular support for a new approach and for more rapid progress on a settlement. The UN and Cyprus's western partners welcomed Vassiliou's election and his statements about the settlement process.
The UN arranged for informal meetings between Vassiliou and Denktas at the Nicosia home of the UN special representative, Oscar Camillion. The first round of these meetings took place between August and November 1988. A second round occurred between December 1988 and April 1989, but the talks faltered when the two sides began submitting papers and drafts that began to dominate the discussions. These two rounds raised new concerns that the UN had lost control of the process, and that reaching agreement on a fixed agenda or schedule might prove difficult.
In May 1989, a more formal process began, after Secretary General Pérez de Cuéllar assigned his two aides, Camillion and Gustave Feissel, to meet separately and jointly with the parties to draft an outline, which could be based on an "ideas paper" that the UN circulated on a noncommittal basis to the parties. This third round was stalled for the second half of 1989, over procedural and substantive difficulties, with the Turkish Cypriots' objecting to the "ideas paper." The parties met in New York with the secretary general to discuss their progress in February and March 1990.
The secretary general reported that the gap between the two sides remained wide and that he was not convinced there was an agreed-upon basis on which to proceed. He turned to the Security Council for clarification of his good offices mission, and the clarification was passed unanimously in Resolution 649 on March 13.
The two sides separately indicated satisfaction with the UN resolution, Greek Cypriots emphasizing the active role proposed for the UN, including the right to make suggestions, and Turkish Cypriots pleased with the resolution's references to the separate status of the two communities and to bizonality as an enshrined principle in a prospective settlement.
This eighteen-month round of settlement efforts had begun hopefully. A period of creative tension and groping to create new understandings occurred in mid-1989, when Vassiliou and his advisers privately and informally offered important concessions to the Turkish Cypriot side. That is, none of the Greek Cypriot proposals or suggestions were binding or formally entrenched in official documents, but were offered discreetly as the basis for discussion. These concessions included a willingness to phase in the three freedoms, beginning with freedom of movement and holding freedom of settlement and property in abeyance. New thinking and flexibility on the territorial issue was displayed, with a range of options presented to the Turkish Cypriot side, such as a smaller but nearly exclusively Turkish Cypriot zone, rather than various larger but more demographically mixed zones. Greek Cypriots tried to link the size of the territorial swap with the degree of communal purity. They were more flexible than in the past on the issue of the presidency, offering alternatives such as rotating the position between the two communities or having joint elections with Turkish Cypriot votes weighted. Turkish Cypriots found themselves challenged by a more flexible interlocutor and reacted with caution, expressing new legal reservations about the proposals. At that point between October 1989 and February 1990, the Greek Cypriot side seemed to withdraw some of its new ideas, and the president found his freedom of maneuver limited by new domestic resistance to further concessions.
When the talks collapsed in early 1990, both sides appeared to be turning away from the UN process. The two governments seemed able to withstand domestic criticism of the talks; opposition complaints on both sides appeared to focus on tactics, and did not challenge the fundamental government positions. Both leaders appeared to be preparing to defend their positions to outside partners. Greek Cypriots mounted a renewed effort to win international support for their position, and for the need for international pressure on Turkey to win concessions from the Turkish Cypriots. For Turkish Cypriots, the end of the talks heralded a period of active domestic politics. A push for new diplomatic recognition of the "TRNC" was under consideration.
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