It took United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres less than seven months into the job to learn what his predecessor, Ban Ki-moon endured for 10 years: the Cyprus unity talks were intractable, and, this time, may have collapsed for good.
The Portuguese diplomat became the latest in a long line of envoys and politicians to fail at getting Cypriots and their Turkish counterparts to come to terms on how to reunify an island divided by an unlawful 1974 Turkish invasion.
The final straw was Turkey’s refusal to remove its 35,000-strong standing army in the northern third it occupies and give up the right to militarily intervene – invade further – when it wants. It proved too much even for Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, eager to make concessions before next year’s re-election campaign.
Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, two alleged moderates, began negotiating two years to great hope and fanfare they could be the ones to finally solve the dilemma but it began unraveling, putting the lie to constant predictions from the UN and both sides that “significant progress” was being made when it wasn’t.
Saying he was “very sorry,” Guterres threw the towel into the ring after less than a week of renewed talks after earlier sit-downs had also collapsed, saying it was fruitless with both sides refusing to budge.
He now will consult with both sides again before deciding whether to take another shot at, his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric said.
The negotiations had been conducted in secret in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana and no details were officially released about the debacle with reports saying only that the talks had gone on into the early morning of July 7.
“They ended it at 2 o’clock. It was a shared understanding among the participants that it was best to close it and I think the Secretary-General expressed his regret that the conference was closed without an agreement reached,” Dujarric added.
But he wouldn’t put the shroud over any lingering hopes, adding that it failure “just means the conference on Cyprus is closed,” without explaining the difference.
Guterres, who sidelined the UN Special Envoy Espen Barth Eide, who had given up earlier, said the Norwegian diplomat would remain in place in case the talks can be revived somehow, trying to quash speculation he would be removed and yet another envoy named.
Asked if Eide has expressed his intention to leave his post after he briefs the Security Council, Siddique said: “No, he remains in post,” the Cyprus Mail reported.
Eide and the UN Special Representative in Cyprus Elizabeth Spehar will brief the Security Council on the latest developments on July 19, ahead of the adoption of a resolution for the renewal of the peacekeeping mandate, scheduled for July 24.
Dujarric said the UN’s role was clear. “It’s one of a facilitator, we would remain available. I think he made that point himself very clearly in his press remarks.”
Dujarric stressed that any decision on the future would be taken by Guterres in consultation with all concerned. “I think what happened yesterday has to be absorbed,” he said.