New Turkish-Cypriot Leader Wants New Start for Old Unity Ideas

Αssociated Press

In this photo released from Cyprus Press and Informations Office, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, center, United Nations Secretary General advisor Jane Holl Lute, left, and Cyprus foreign minister Nicos Christodoulides, right, talk during their meeting at the presidential palace in divided capital Nicosia, Cyprus, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. (Stavros Ioannides, Cyprus Press and Informations Office via AP)

NICOSIA -- Ersin Tatar, the newly-elected hardline nationalist leader of the Turkish-Cypriot occupied side of the island split by an unlawful 1974 invasion said he wants to keep it that way, essentially dismissing reunification in favor of a two-state idea.

After meeting with United Nations envoy Jane Holl Lute, an American diplomat who's the latest in a long line of negotiators who've failed to get either side to budge, Tatar said there should be a fresh start.

Backed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he ousted incumbent moderate Mustafa Akinci in elections, getting a bump when the Turkish leader opened a beachfront at the abandoned resort of Varosha on the occupied side.

Tatar said he would follow Erdogan's direction and that a regional “new state of affairs” including energy deposits offshore creates the need for a two-state accord, under which both sides can live “side-by-side.”

The problem is that the Greek-Cypriot side and President Nicos Anastasiades have already rejected the idea, making it a non-starter adding to the likelihood there won't be a resumption of talks.

The last round fell apart in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montanta – held in secret – when Erdogan and Akinci said they would never remove a 35,000-strong army on the occupied side and wanted the right of further military intervention.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – who was at the Swiss debacle and later issued a report blaming nobody for anything - said he’s willing to host an informal conference bringing together the two sides as well as Cyprus’ “guarantors” — Greece, Turkey and former colonial ruler Britain — in hopes of resuscitating peace talks.

The approach by Tatar threatens to upend a 1977 agreement for the two sides to negotiate a federation which hasn't gone anywhere and with Anastasiades saying he wouldn't come back to the table as long as Turkey keeps drilling for oil and gas offshore.

The island’s internationally recognized government is seated in the Greek- Cypriot south, a member of the European Union that Turkey has been trying to join since 2005 while refusing to recognize Cyprus and barring is ships and planes.

Only Turkey recognizes a self-declared Turkish-Cypriot republic on the occupied side which is struggling economically and most Greek-Cypriots don't want a two-state deal or any other arrangement legally sanctioning the country’s division by lending recognition to a breakaway entity.

Lute met later with Anastasiades who broke with his vow not to talk during drilling to say that he would and was willing to resume reunification talks where they left off – dead in the water. She planned to meet with officials in Greece and Turkey as well for more discussions.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)