NICOSIA — After meeting the newly-elected leader of the Turkish-Cypriot occupied side of Cyprus, President Nicos Anastasiades said he was open to talking reunification although that was already rejected by his rival, Ersin Tatar.
They agreed, however, to support a request from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to explore the possibility of renewing talks that collapsed in July, 2015 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.
Tatar, who ousted incumbent moderate Mustafa Akinci, is an ultra-nationalist hardliner who won election after being backed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he supports fully.
Tatar had said he wants a two-state solution of permanent partition some 46 years after Turkey seized the northern third of the island in an unlawful invasion and where it keeps a 35,000-strong army.
Talking delicately but showing they are still poles apart, Tatar and Akinci felt each other out at a staged meeting where the office of Guterres, who was at the Swiss debacle that fell apart, said thee would be talks at some point.
It was the two men's first face-to-face meeting since Tatar's election that gave them a chance to sense where the other stood, hosted by Elizabeth Spehar, head of the UN peacekeeping force on the island.
afforded them the opportunity to put out feelers on where the other stands on
Speaking after the meeting, Anastasiades said he'd prefer not to make remarks at this stage that might “pollute" the climate but indicated he and Tatar aren't even close to critical issues that have blocked progress for generations.
“Without doubt, there is a divergence of positions," Anastasiades told reporters without specifying them as past negotiations have been conducted in secret away from Cyprus to keep Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots from information.
Tatar got a boost to narrowly beat Akinci when Erdogan opened a beach front at the abandoned Varosha resort to satisfy hardliners, which Akinci said was undue political meddling but worked to get Erdogan his man in place.
Tatar advocates fully aligning Turkish-Cypriot policies with those of Erdogan, who refuses to recognize Cyprus – a member of the European Union that Turkey has fruitlessly been trying to join since 2005 – while barring its ships and planes.
Tatar also wants to divide up rights for oil and gas off the island's shores where Turkey has been drilling in defiance of soft EU sanctions and Anastasiades had said he wouldn't negotiate while they were there.
“The concept of federation no longer offers any hope and new options should be discussed," Tatar told reporters, immediately undercutting the significance of the coming talks that seem destined to follow the same line of intransigence.
Guterres' informal meeting would include Cyprus’ three guarantors of peace, Turkey, Greece and and Britain, the island's former Colonial ruler, which still has military bases there, trying to determine if there's any basis for resumption of stalled talks.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)