Collapsed Cyprus Unity Talks Unraveling Before They Resume

FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017 file photo UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, speaks next to Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, right, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, left, during a press conference after the Conference on Cyprus, on the sideline of the Cyprus Peace Talks, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. (Laurent Gillieron/Pool Photo via AP, File)

With last-ditch efforts about to resume in a bid to reunify Cyprus, the rival leaders were bickering over proposals even before they sit down June 28 in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci were said to be still far apart on the determining issue of Turkey’s insistence on keeping a 35,000-strong army and the right to militarily intervene.

The negotiations had broken down earlier in Geneva after Turkey’s demands to keep the army on the northern third it has occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion.

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.

Anastasiades and Akinci reportedly want two negotiating tables, one the guarantor powers of Turkey, England and Greece can discuss possible amendments to the system of guarantees and another where the remaining unresolved issues be discussed.

Observers say the window for an agreement has narrowed considerably as a Greek Cypriot election approaches and Greece argues against European Union concessions if Ankara removes or reduces its army on the island.

The United Nations, whose Special Envoy Espen Barth Eide earlier gave up but has come back for another shot at it, told negotiators to be ready for up to 12 days of talks but it said to be peeved at the intransigence on both sides and may walk away after three days of there’s no progress, The Financial Times (FT) reported.  “We expect both sides to behave as adults when they meet this time,” said a UN source.

Any deal would need the backing of Turkey, Greece and the UK because it would replace treaties concluded on Britain’s withdrawal from Cyprus in 1960 that gave all three countries a right of military intervention on the island.

EU support is also required as the Turkish-Cypriot part of the island would join the bloc and the euro if a reunification agreement were reached.

“Even the minimal version of what Turkey would be ready to accept still does not overlap with what Anastasiades would be willing to take to a referendum on his part of the island,” Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar the Carnegie Europe think-tank and a former Turkish diplomat told FT. “Most of the other areas are potentially bridgeable.”

Anastasiades faces elections early in 2018 and has been hardening his stance, apparently fearful of being seen as too conciliatory and conceding more to Turkey, especially with a map still to be worked out about how much property stolen by Turks will be returned to Cypriots.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, anxious that Turkey’s strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will let human traffickers flood Greek islands with more refugees, had a letter sent to the UN that “essentially tries to undermine the prospects for getting a solution,” an unnamed source told FT.