In what’s being billed as perhaps the last best chance for unity on an island divided for 43 years, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci will revive collapsed talks June 28 in Switzerland, under pressure to finally make a deal.
The negotiations had broken down earlier in Geneva after Turkish insistence it won’t remove a 35,000-strong army it keeps in the northern third it has occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion, and its demands to militarily intervene when it wants.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who refuses to recognize Cyprus and bars its ships and planes – also is planning to send an energy research vessel into Cypriot waters in July where international companies have been licensed by the legitimate government to drill for oil and gas.
That upended the talks but Anastasiades backed off his condition Turkey drop its insistence on keeping the army, saying it would be negotiated at the table.
He wants a kind of international police force instead. Turkey, along with the United Kingdom and Greece, are guarantors of security for Cyprus and the United Nations keeps a small peacekeeping force in the divided capital of Nicosia.
“We are looking for a final settlement… We expect both parties to come with determination, will and leadership for a final settlement,” a UN spokesperson told Agence France Presse although similar sentiments have been dashed for decades, with little progress being made.
“We are expecting all parties to come to the table and settle this once and for all, including Greece, Turkey and Britain,” the spokesman added.
This time, Anastasiades and Akinci will meet in the Alpine ski resort of Crans-Montana. They moved the secret talks from Nicosia and have revealed almost nothing about them, keeping Cypriots and Turks in the dark over their future as the two leaders try to carve up the island anew and settle how much property stolen by Turks should be returned, among other obstacles.
The conference is expected to run for at least 10 days, according to officials. Apart from the guarantor powers, a representative of the European Union will attend as an observer. It has yet to be confirmed if UN chief Antonio Guterres will take part.
Major differences remain as Turkey wants to skirt the security issue and talk instead about letting a Turk be President of the island every other term, and a compromise on property rights and territory. Any deal would have to pass a referendum on both sides of the island, which failed in 2004 when the so-called Annan Plan was approved by Turks but nixed by Cypriots.
A diplomatic source told AFP that Turkey is ready to bring a proposal to the table. “The Turkish side is willing to reduce troop numbers by 80 percent and put this on the table. It is not realistic for the Greek Cypriots to say ‘no troops’ and ‘no guarantees’,” said the source.
“What we can hope for is progress on the security chapter which will determine the outcome of the meeting in Switzerland,” Hubert Faustmann, a political science professor at the University of Nicosia told the news agency.
“In the best possible case, Turkey offers a security deal that has a sunset clause for the presence of the Turkish troops, anything less than that and Anastasiades is unlikely to agree and the conference will fail,” he added. The United Nations, which has 950 peacekeepers serving in Cyprus, could have some oversight role to implement new security arrangements.