Rival Cyprus Leaders Move Unity Talks to Switzerland

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (L) and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci talk behind a guard. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA — The leaders of ethnically divided Cyprus’ Greek and Turkish speaking communities have agreed to conduct a key phase of reunification talks in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland, next month, a United Nations spokesman said Oct. 26.

Aleem Siddique said Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci will concentrate in talks set for Nov. 7-11 on how much territory each side will administer under an envisioned federation. Other related issues may also be discussed.

Shifting negotiations abroad is aimed at lowering the risk of leaks undercutting the talks’ momentum amid concerns of a backlash by some Turkish Cypriots who may have to relocate.

Siddique said in a statement the leaders expressed hope that the Switzerland meeting “will pave the way for the last phase of talks in line with their shared commitment to do their utmost in order to reach a settlement within 2016.”

A 1974 Turkish invasion in response to a coup aiming to unite Cyprus with Greece resulted in the island’s division into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north.

Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops in the north. Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but only the south enjoys full membership benefits.

Anastasiades and Akinci have made significant headway since the U.N. facilitated talks resumed nearly 18 months ago, but important differences remain.

A key sticking point is Turkish military intervention rights that Turkish Cypriots see as vital to their security while Greek Cypriots view that as a threat.

The territory issue is considered pivotal to a peace deal. Greek Cypriots argue the more people are able to reclaim homes and property lost during the war, the greater the support a deal will receive from the majority Greek Cypriots when it’s put to a vote in simultaneous referendums in both communities.

Additionally, the projected cost of a settlement would drop substantially if more people reclaim homes and property and forego compensation for their loss.

Anastasiades said Oct. 25 that negotiations are at a “truly crucial juncture” and that how talks will fare territory will indicate whether or not an accord is within reach.

A peace deal would help unlock energy cooperation on east Mediterranean gas deposits, lift obstacles to Turkey’s troubled bid to join the European Union and usher in a degree of stability in a tumultuous region.