It’s Valentine’s Day again and in a world where drones, dictators and WMDs seem to be murdering wantonly and conflicts are constantly sprouting out of nowhere, a Valentine’s accord would be unlikely even ridiculous. Yet it seems that Cupid is dabbling in diplomacy. In the last week unlikely pairings around the globe are seeking to mitigate and even end years of mutual enmity between them. Hopefully this isn’t simply Hallmark induced amorousness.
Geneva: Round Two
Mutton-chopped UN special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi is an optimist. After working in equally intractable conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan he is now initiating the second round of talks at the Geneva II. Having been helpless as seething diplomats on both sides spent the first round berating and scolding each other, he will be hoping for catharsis. The unimaginable brutality of the conflict makes that doubtful.
The deadliest conflict of the decade with a rapidly increasing death toll of 136,000 has shown mild symptoms of peace. Previous talks brokered a ‘humanitarian pause’ in fighting to allow for the evacuation of the Old City of Homs that has been under siege for months.
For now Brahimi has kept the two sides separated and is shuttling between them. The hostility of the two sides of delegates is a blatant sign that the war is anything but over and that serious compromises aren’t foreseeable. In these circumstances any success must be celebrated.
The first ever high-level talks between Taiwan and China
The two ”Republics of China” that both proclaim to be the legitimate authorities of the Chinese mainland have been split since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Having not interacted since, the Taiwanese, made up of the defeated Kuomintang government, have lost international recognition as a state.
Neither side has since publicly ruled out the use of force to seize what they consider their rightful territory. Therefore these unprecedented talks, organised to open a channel of regular communication, had in Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s words “extraordinary significance.”
This agreement however is clearly very basic and there are many disagreements that continue to fester. Aside from their bellicose nationalistic postures, these governments will have to overcome the Senkaku Island dispute in which Taiwan are vehement underdogs.
Oil reserves precipitate Cyprus talks
As the 40th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus draws near, the feud over Aphrodite’s isle may also come to pass. After decades of stubbornness and foot dragging, the two communities, which haven’t coexisted for nearly half a century, may face the very real prospect of unification.
The cause of this “seismic shift” of course is oil. Juicy reserves of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean have the potential not just to force a solution to Cypriot sovereignty, but also to be a geopolitical game changer.
Requiring the cooperation of Israel who first found the reserves, the proposed pipeline to Turkey would necessitate cooperation on the island but also across the Middle East. Furthermore, the move would be a desperately needed victory for both the hard-pressed Turkish President Erdogan and the limping Greek economy. However the US, who have hastened the talks, are looking to break the EU’s dependency on Russia for natural gas as this has disadvantaged Brussels in their interactions with the Kremlin.
With irresistible incentives for all sides to make a settlement, this round of talks should lead to an auspicious outcome. It turns out oil can make as well as break peace.
New Korea talks before military exercises.
Delegates from Pyongyang and Seoul have once again returned to the ‘Peace House’ in the demilitarised zone to try and find any scrap of common ground to build on. Without any set agenda, the talks were organised hastily and focused on US and S. Korean military exercises as well as the reunions relatives divided by the Korean Civil War that Pyongyang has threatened to cancel.
Although the eagerness of the North to talk is encouraging, it comes among conflicting signals. Recently a visit to Pyongyang by US envoy Robert King was cancelled putting the future of US citizen Kenneth Bae who is incarcerated in North Korea, into considerable doubt.
With North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un seeking to visit his most essential but increasingly exasperated ally China, he will want to avoid annoying his neighbour to prevent any tension with his benefactors in Beijing. However if this is his only motivation for less bellicose behaviour, the durability and importance of these talks may be minimal.
EU and Cuba to negotiate return of full bilateral relations
Unlike the USA, which hasn’t had any formal or economic ties with the Caribbean island since 1962, the EU only put an trade embargo on Cuba in 2003, only to scrap them five years later. However human rights in Cuba have been historically less than satisfactory for Brussels who adopted a ‘Common Position’ in 1996 demanding improved human rights in Cuba for extended economic relations.
According to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, human rights are still “at the core” of EU dealings with Cuba. Although EU is Cuba’s second largest trading partner, claims that the EU is ‘buying’ Cuban reforms through aid and investment have been rubbished, as EU aid will remain at current levels.
Although half of EU states have long maintained bilateral ties with Cuba the intention of the EU to restore full diplomatic relations gives the US a clear sign that in isolating Havana they are isolating themselves. The move is therefore mostly symbolic, but nonetheless historic.
This comes at a time of socio-economic reform brought about by current leader Raul Castro so prospects for enhanced personal freedoms in the country are favourable.