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Politics

Greece, Cyprus Hope Turkish Hardliner Open to Unity Talks

The new leader of the self-declared Turkish republic on the occupied northern third of Cyprus, Ersin Tatar, has accepted Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades' offer to sit down and talk about prospects of restarting collapsed reunification talks.

Tatar, a hardliner who said he will follow the adamant policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and favors permanent partition, stunned moderate incumbent Mustafa Akinci in Oct. 18 elections, creating doubt whether any renewed talks would make any progress after decades of failures.

Greek New Democracy government spokesman Stelios Petsas said that, “After an election, one must look forward and not back. Therefore, we hope the leader elected buy the Turkish-Cypriots will come to the negotiating table.”

He added that, “I remind you of the statement by Cypriot President Nikos Anastadiades …who wants to contribute to the island’s reunification,” although the last round fell apart in July 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montanta.

Those talks, brokered by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, broke off when Akinci and Erdogan said they would never remove a 35,000-strong army on the side occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion and as they demanded the right of further military intervention.

Erdogan paved the way for the nationalist Tatar's victory by opening a beach at the abandoned Varosha resort on the occupied side, a move that Akinci said was designed to put the Turkish President's hand-picked candidate in power to do his bidding.

The meeting between Anastasiades and Tatar is due to take place at United Nations premise in the divided capital of Nicosia as Cypriot government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said it will be a meet-and-greet formality.

Anastasiades contacted the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Elizabeth Spehar, who reportedly is making the arrangements for the sit-down with no prospects it will be any more than that with Tatar openly admitting he'll do what Erdogan wants.

Anastasiades, who said he wouldn't negotiate as long as Turkey keeps drilling for energy off shore, said he would now and expressed his “readiness and determination” to engage in talks despite Tatar's open hard line.

“I  want to assure both him and my Turkish Cypriot compatriots of my readiness and determination to respond immediately to the stated intention of the Secretary General of the United Nations to take a new initiative,” said the Cypriot President.

Anastasiades also said he “hoped” that Tatar will also “show the same will” to restart talks as Guterres is expected to call a meeting between the two island communities and Cyprus’ guarantors of peace, Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom, the former Colonial power that still has military bases on the island, to see if there's common ground to restart talks.

IT DOESN'T LOOK GOOD

Tatar has already indicated there isn't, saying that, “They will never tear the ties between us and Turkey,” reported Al-Monitor, a Washington, D.C.-based site specializing in Middle East analyses.

“In light of the approval we received, it is the preference of our people in all disputes to lay claim to our own state, to lay claim to our land and lay claim to the guarantorship of Turkey,” he said.

In a tweet, Erdogan congratulated Tatar, writing, “Turkey will continue to make all the necessary efforts to defend the rights of the people of northern Cyprus,” as Turkey calls the occupied territory unrecognized by any other country.

Akinci had been supportive of UN-mediated reunification talks before digging in his heels after being constantly prodded and undercut by Erdogan, who also wants Turkish-Cypriots to take part in the licensing of foreign energy companies and get a bigger chunk of potentially lucrative revenues although Anastasiades offered to share 30 percent with them.

Harry Tzimitras, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo Cyprus Centre, said Tatar was possibly the first major Turkish-Cypriot presidential candidate to win on a campaign “so closely associated with Turkey and its policies.”

“This reflects the changed nature of current and projected involvement of Turkey in Turkish-Cypriot politics and daily lives,” Tzimitras told Al-Monitor, suggesting even tighter control by Erdogan, who's been emboldened by the European Union not challenging him strongly over the Cypriot drilling.

He added, “A much closer coordination, possibly even a full alignment, between Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership is anticipated.”

Erol Kaymak, a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Eastern Mediterranean University on the occupied side told the site that, “Akinci was getting nowhere with Anastasiades So it is hardly surprising that in the era of regional tensions, nationalism held sway with a slim majority.”

“There is the remote possibility that the now 'unfrozen' conflict will inspire EU leaders and others to prod Greek Cypriots into a more realistic assessment of the situation,” Kaymak told Al-Monitor. “But given Turkey's trajectory it seems we won't find a diplomatic solution to most issues in the near term.”

Fiona Mullen, Director of the Nicosia-based research consultancy Sapienta Economics, said there will be “enormous pressure” on all sides to reach some kind of a deal on energy-revenue sharing.

“What I see to be the most likely scenario in the short term is ‘Taiwanisation’ of northern Cyprus,” Mullen told Al-Monitor. “It means de facto recognition as part of some gas deal that might mean either the return of Varosha or at least Varosha remaining closed.”

“It will either be the slow march to formal partition in the next generation, or it may work as a practice room for eventual reunification,” Mullen told Al-Monitor. “No one thought a united Ireland was possible until very recently, but things happen and suddenly it is now a real possibility,” she also added.

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