NICOSIA – Cyprus’ incoming President Nikos Christodoulides met the hardline leader of the Turkish-occupied side of the island, Ersin Tatar, and said he was ready to talk about reunification that his rival has already rejected.
It was said to be a general discussion that included the aftermath of the deadly earthquake in Turkey and nothing serious about the reunification dilemma was expected to be brought up.
“I didn’t hear anything I didn’t expect from Mr. Tatar,” Christodoulides said. “I expressed my readiness – and acknowledging the differences in approach and disagreements on basic issues – to do whatever I can to break the deadlock,” he said, Reuters reported.
They met on neutral ground in a United Nations-controlled buffer zone splitting the two sides in the divided capital, Nicosia, at the home of Canadian diplomat Colin Stewart who heads the peacekeeping mission
The UN mission, UNFICYP, said the meeting was “open and constructive,” diplomatic code words to generally mean nothing happened but talks were otherwise cordial if not going anywhere.
Christodoulides told The Associated Press prior to the meeting that he’s “fully aware” of the obstacles, “but that doesn’t mean that we mustn’t do everything possible to break the current deadlock.”
No new meeting was set. Christodoulides said he had suggested a social meeting with Tatar and their spouses, the news agency said, but any details of what was said remained under wraps, as have negotiations for years.
“The present state of affairs cannot be the solution to the Cyprus problem, not for Greek-Cypriots, or Turkish-Cypriots,” Christodoulides said after the two-hour meeting with Tatar.
Christodoulides was a former foreign minister for the outgoing government of President Nicos Anastasiades’ Democratic Rally (DISY) party but was put out after running for President against the party’s leader, who said none of its members would take part in the new government.
But centrist and right-wing parties supporting him have typically followed a hard line in reunification talks and two reject the United Nations basis for the talks, which is uniting Cyprus under a loose federal umbrella, though Christodoulides backs the framework, the news agency noted.
He was also at the last round of talks that fell apart in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana that were brokered by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who also failed to bring the sides together.
Christodoulides will be sworn in on Feb. 28 and said earlier he still thinks there’s a way to find an answer to the dilemma that has eluded so many envoys that Cyprus is known as the “graveyard of diplomats.”
Only Turkey recognizes the occupied side that’s been isolated since two unlawful 1974 Turkish invasions and has seen Turkey keep a 35,000-strong standing army there, one of the reasons why the 2017 talks fell apart.
Tatar said he won’t discuss reunification, only UN and world acceptance for the self-declared republic amid talks that if the stalemate continues that Turkey might annex the territory or it could face permanent partition.
There had been a long-held understanding any deal would reunify Cyprus as a federation composed of a Turkish-speaking zone in the north and a Greek speaking zone in the south.
While Tatar has said that he’s open to dialogue, he warned there’s “no flexibility or retreat” from the two-state proposal as well as a permanent Turkish troop presence on the island and the right to invade again.
“You can never impose on us a settlement saying that ‘this is what the EU says,’ burying your head in the sand,” Tatar said. “Our red line is our sovereignty.”
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)