UN Envoy Quietly Reaches Out Over Cyprus Unity Talks Restart

FILE - Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, right, U.N. Special Advisor of the Secretary-General Espen Barth Eide, center, and Head of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus Elizabeth Spehar are seen during a meeting in the Turkish Cypriot breakaway north part of Nicosia, Cyprus, Wednesday, May 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA – It’s not official but the United Nations Special Representative and head of the UNFICYP peacekeeping operation on Cyprus, Canadian diplomat Elizabeth Spehar has reportedly been talking with Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot officials about rebooting collapsed unity talks.

There’s no official UN envoy to replace Norway’s Espen Barth Eide, who last year became the latest in a long line of diplomats to give up trying to find an agreement after talks collapsed in July at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said they would never remove an army on the northern third occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion and wanted the right to militarily intervene again.

That led Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to walk away and turn toward a re-election campaign he easily won this year and then say he was receptive to starting again – if the Turkish side dropped its demands.

Turkey is a guarantor of security on the island, along with Greece and the former Colonial ruler the United Kingdom, which still has a military base there, but hasn’t agreed on who should the official UN envoy should be, leaving Spehar in a kind of limbo.

She said she was carrying out a round of contacts with political parties on the island to “touch base,” the Cyprus Mail reported.

With Erdogan seeking reelection in snap polls he called for June 24 she said that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who was at the Swiss talks but failed to broker a deal and then issued a report blaming nobody for anything, would consult both sides once the results are in with polls showing Erdogan will easily return to office.

“The consultations will provide a more formal, structured, and detailed channel for the parties to convey to the United Nations the outcomes of their reflection since Crans-Montana and to help determine whether conditions have or have not matured at this stage for a meaningful process. I encourage the parties to recognise the importance of this exercise and to seize the opportunity accordingly,” he said in his report last week.

Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides said if the two sides could agree on the six points in Guterres’ framework it would be the basis for resuming talks but there was no indication Erdogan was willing to concede anything and his position could be strengthened if he wins reelection.

After the talks fell apart, Erdogan sent Turkish warships into waters off the island’s coast in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claimed by the government and said he would block foreign energy companies from drilling in waters where they are licensed to look for oil and gas.

Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus, a member of the European Union that Erdogan wants his country to join, and bars its ships and planes with essentially no rebuke from the EU.