NICOSIA – After failing in 2017 to help broker a deal to reunify Cyprus – the northern third occupied since an unlawful 1974 Turkish invasion – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants to start again, and include the island’s guarantors of security: Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom.
The last round of talks at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana collapsed 2 ½ years earlier when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they would never remove a 35,000-strong standing army on the occupied territory.
They also wanted the right to militarily intervene – invade – again when they wanted, leading Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to walk away, stopping hopes of reunification that seemed on the road again.
Anastasiades said he’s willing to negotiate again under terms set by the UN but wouldn’t unless Turkey removes its army, which Erdogan said would never happen and that the troops will be there “forever.”
Nevertheless, Guterres said he wants to try again to solve a problem that has eluded any result for almost 45 years, leading Cyprus to be called “a diplomats graveyard” because none have made any headway, including his appointee now, American envoy Jane Holl Lute.
So now he said he is looking to bring together Cyprus’ rival leaders and officials from Britain, Greece and Turkey — for an informal meeting to reach consensus on those terms.
The terms will act as a guideline for negotiations to resume “at the earliest feasible opportunity” and aim at reaching a deal reunifying Cyprus as a federation “within a foreseeable horizon,” the usual diplomatic code language to reveal essentially nothing.
Guterres said the leaders would first aim for a “strategic agreement” that would pave the way toward a comprehensive deal but didn’t say if that would include a requirement Turkey remove its army and as ignored Anastasiades’ pleas to intervene to force Turkey to stop drilling for oil and gas in the island’s sovereign waters.
Only Turkey recognizes a self-declared republic on the occupied territory and endless rounds of negotiations have fallen apart.
“It’s acknowledged that this time must be different,” Guterres said in written statement issued after an informal meeting with Anastasiades and Akinci in Berlin.
Both leaders hailed the meeting as nudging the process forward although there was no sign it had, Anastasiades calling it a “first positive step” toward resuming negotiations while Akinci said it put the “derailed peace process back on track.” The meeting may have offered some positive news after more than two years of stalemate, but key sticking points remain.
They include a Turkish demand for a continued troop presence on a reunified Cyprus and military intervention rights that Greek-Cypriots reject with no sign yet that Anastasiades will budge on allowing an occupying army in a European Union country.
The majority Greek-Cypriots oppose Turkish-Cypriot condition for veto powers in all decision-making on a federal level which could stalemate government and give the occupiers an equal say although they make up only about one-fifth of the population.
Akinci saidid he believed Guterres thought it necessary to personally re-engage in Cyprus peace efforts amid concerns that tensions over gas drilling in the east Mediterranean could escalate although the UN chief has said nothing about it all year.
Turkey faces soft sanctions from the European Union for sending warship-escorted vessels to carry out exploratory drilling in waters were EU-member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights but the bloc’s leaders, fearing Turkey will unleash on Greek islands possibly millions more refugees and migrants who went to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their homelands has been reluctant to get tougher.
Turkey, which doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state although Turkey has been trying to join the EU since 2005, opposes what it calls a “unilateral” Greek-Cypriot gas search and says it is acting to protect its own interests and those of Turkish Cypriots to the area’s energy reserves and claims almost half of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ.)
Anastasiades repeated that Turkey must stop its illegal drilling off Cyprus and cease threatening the settlement of an uninhabited suburb under Turkish military control if substantial peace talks are to resume, indicating the newest attempt might flop again.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)