NICOSIA -- After being unable in July, 2017 talks at the Swiss resort of Cran-Montana to bring a reunification deal for Cyprus, divided since an unlawful 1974 invasion, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants to try again.
The last round collapsed when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the then-Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they would never remove a 35,000 strong standing army on the occupied northern third and wanted the right of military intervention again.
Guterres was trying to broker an agreement in a dispute that has seen so many failures that Cyprus has been called “the graveyard of diplomats” and after the debacle issued a report blaming nobody for anything.
Cypriot government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said Guterres intends to meet some time in February with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and the new leader of the Turkish-Cypriot side, hardliner Ersin Tatar, who ousted Akinci in October, 2019 elections.
The idea is to gingerly test the waters to see if there’s room for negotiations - after Tatar and Erdogan said there weren’t because they want two separate states in a bid to get recognition for the occupied side isolated in the world.
The talks would ostensibly be so-called Five Party negotiations include Cyprus, the UN and the three guarantors of security on the island, Greece, Turkey and the former Colonial ruler the United Kingdom, which still has military bases there.
Koushos spoke after UN envoy Jane Holl Lute, an American diplomat, met with Anastasiades to prepare for the meeting that’s seen as the linchpin to restarting negotiations.
Anastasiades said he would never talk as long as Turkey continues to drill for oil and gas in Cypriot waters, still ongoing in defiance of soft European Union sanctions, but after Tatar was elected said he was willing to try again.
Tatar said he would follow the lead of Erdogan, Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriots setting aside hopes of reunification and insisting on two separate states which would essentially bring permanent partition.
That shift is complicating peace efforts as the majority Greek-Cypriots insist they would never accept a two-state arrangement that would formalize the country’s partition, something they say falls outside Federal framework the two sides agreed on 44 years ago.
Koushos said Anastasiades expressed his readiness to attend next month’s meeting in hopes that it would lead to a negotiated settlement “within the agreed-upon framework.”
Turkish officials as well as Tatar say the federation no longer is visible after decades of failed talks and that the two sides should consider alternatives including a two-state deal that would see the Greek-Cypriots surrender options.
Tatar also met with Lute on Jan. 11 and his office said in a statement that any new results-oriented process should start “with respect for the sovereign equality and equal international status of the Turkish-Cypriot side.”
That demands recognition for the self-declared republic even though Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus - a member of the EU that Turkey has fruitlessly been trying to join since 2005 - while barring Cypriot ships and planes.
Anastasiades has also proposed several undisclosed confidence-building measures to “create the appropriate climate” for negotiations. But he also warned against Turkey’s “unilateral actions” that could heighten tensions.
Turkey’s research vessels - escorted by warships -continue to search for hydrocarbons in waters where Cyprus claims exclusive economic rights. Turkey insists it’s acting within its legally accorded rights to protect its interests and those of Turkish-Cypriots.
The Cypriot government says Turkey is in flagrant violation of international law and is harming the resumption of peace talks but Anastasiades is willing to sit down yet again.
The two sides always conduct their talks in secret, keeping private from the citizens of both sides information that would materially affect their lives and release only vague diplomatic statements.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)