No Cyprus Unity Talks Breakthrough Seen This Year

Αssociated Press

In this Tuesday, July 9, 2019 photo, a helicopter flies over Turkey's drilling ship, 'Fatih' dispatched towards the eastern Mediterranean, near Cyprus. (Turkish Defence Ministry via AP, Pool)

NICOSIA - Constant Turkish provocations in the Aegan and East Mediterranean, including drilling for oil and gas in Cypriot waters, unimpeded by the European Union or United Nations, have undermined any likely hopes to reboot collapsed reunification talks this year.

Despite denunciations from Greece, the United States and the legitimate government of the island, where Turkey has occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's insistence on drilling has ceased prospects of restarting talks.

With Turkey signing a deal with Libya dividing the seas between them, and Turkey planning to send troops to Libya to help the United Nations-recognized government opposed by dissidents who control the Parliament, the signs aren't good for Cyprus negotiations.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci stopped talking seriously after Erdogan and Akinci said they would never remove a 35,000-strong standing army on the occupied territory and as they wanted the right of further military intervention.

That ended the last round of negotiations in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who failed there to broker a deal, has two emissaries trying again.

American diplomat Jane Holl Lute is his envoy for Cyprus but despite several meetings with Anastasiades and Akinci separately, has been unable to make any progress, joining a long line of veteran negotiators to fail.

Just as Guterres was hopeful of still getting the two sides back to the table as talks went on at the end of 2019, Erdogan stepped up provocations and did the deal with Libya, effectively ending them for now, analysts said.

“The situation in the area is not easy anymore,” said Nicos Rolandis, who served as foreign minister from 1978 to 1983 and then as commerce minister from 1998 to 2003 told The Cyprus Mail about the dashed hopes, adding that a political settlement is almost impossible for now.

“Ms. Lute has been coming and going for two years now, and we haven’t even been able to agree the terms of reference for negotiations. The outlook is grim,” he added as both sides kept putting out diplomatic press releases they were talking in good faith despite no real progress being made.

With Turkey remaining in Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) it doesn't fully accept, and Erdogan ignoring all entreaties to stop, there's been no real attempt to even start talks about starting the talks again.

“Solving the Cyprus problem would automatically also resolve the dispute on the island over hydrocarbons, since it’s already been agreed that the matter would be handled by the federal government,” said Rolandis.

But Anastasiades said he won't come back to the bargaining table unless Turkey withdraws its energy drillships, which Erdogan said won't happen, creating yet another Catch-22 obstacle for Cyprus reunification.

Rolandis saod a proposal he made two years ago was well received Akinci, for a moratorium on gas exploration around Cyprus for a year but Anastasiades' government has licensed foreign companies, including America's ExxonMobil to drill in the EEZ.

Rolandis said sees no reason why Turkey should halt its incursions into the EEZ and said Erdogan instead has been emboldened. “Who’s going to stop them?” also said Rolandis of Turkey.