High-level talks aiming at reunifying Cyprus failed to reach an agreement, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared, again dashing hopes that the island’s 43-year ethnic split could be healed.
Guterres made the announcement after marathon, U.N.-sponsored talks concluded at a Swiss resort in the early hours of July 7 after Turkey blamed the Cypriot government for not dropping its demand a 35,000-strong army be removed and that Turkey give up the right to militarily intervene when it wants, as it did in an unlawful 1974 invasion, seizing the northern third of the island it still occupies.
“Unfortunately…an agreement was not possible and the conference was closed without the possibility to bring a solution to this dramatically long-lasting problem,” Guterres told reporters.
But Guterres didn’t entirely shut the door on any renewed, U.N.-assisted attempt to get the island’s Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots Mustafa Akinci back to the negotiating table again.
“The conference is closed,” said Guterres. “That doesn’t mean that other initiatives cannot be developed to address the Cyprus problem.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the talks’ collapse was owed to a Greek and Greek Cypriot insistence for Turkey to pull out all of its troops from the island and for military intervention rights to be abolished.
“For Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side it is not acceptable for troops to be withdrawn,” he told reporters. Anastasiades said it was unacceptable for a foreign power to want to keep an army in a European Union country.
Turkey wants to join the bloc but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also refuses to recognize Cyprus, bars its ships and planes and is planning to send an energy research vessel into waters where the legitimate government has licensed international companies, including an American firm, to drill for oil and gas this summer.
Security arrangements for an envisioned Federal Cyprus were the linchpin to a reunification deal even as Turkey demanded a Turk be President of the island every other term even though they represent only 18 percent of the population.
The debacle was the latest failure in more than four decades of flops, leaving a graveyard of diplomats, envoys, and politicians in the wake, including the recent UN Special Envoy, Espen Barth Eide of Norway, and now Guterres, little more than six months after replacing Ban Ki-moon, who had a laissez-faire, hands-off approach in which he was reluctant to even cajole the rival leaders to reach a solution.
Talks between Anastasiades and Akinci, two moderates, began two years ago to much fanfare and repeated assertions that a deal was at hand and that much progress was being made even though it wasn’t.
The talks being held in secret in the Swiss resort town of Crans-Montana instead of Cyprus as Anastasiades and Akinci were trying to prevent leaks and wanted to keep Cypriots and Turks in the dark about what their future held.
For all that, no one said the talks were dead, only zombie-like for now. Echoing Guterres, Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the failed result wasn’t “the end of the road” for peace efforts even though Erdogan said his army is there “forever” and will never be removed even at the cost of scuttling any unity deal.
“The existing, unacceptable situation can’t be Cyprus’ future and the president will redouble his efforts,” Christodoulides said after earlier speculation that Anastasiades, who is facing re-election next year, was ready to cave and let Turkey keep the army so he could say he made a deal.
Also participating in the talks were Cyprus’ three ‘guarantors’ — Greece, Turkey and former colonial ruler Britain, which still keeps a military base on the island.
Anastasiades had suggested an international police force to replace the guarantors and a UN peacekeeping force in the buffer zone of the island’s capital of Nicosia to separate the two sides.
Greek Cypriots in the island’s internationally recognized south perceive the Turkish soldiers as a threat and want them to leave. The island’s minority Turkish Cypriots want them to stay as their protectors.
Christodoulides faulted Turkey’s “obsession” with having a troop presence in Cyprus and the right to militarily intervene. He said Turkish positions on other key issues deviated from a U.N. framework and “were such that they could not be accepted under any circumstances.”
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias posted on his personal Twitter account that it wasn’t possible to accept Turkey’s right to militarily intervene on the whole of Cyprus but said that,
“The dream and the plan for solving the Cyprus problem remain alive,” without explaining the contradiction.
Other key disagreements were on how much territory would make up the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot federal zones: how much property stolen by Turks would be returned although both sides had prepared a map in earlier collapsed talks in Geneva, the document locked in an UN safe.
Greek Cypriots sought for the town of Morphou to be returned to Greek Cypriot administrative control so a large number of displaced people could swiftly reclaim lost homes and property. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots offered only part of the town.
Another key difference was Turkey’s insistence that a peace accord grant Turkish nationals the right to relocate and transfer money, services and goods to a reunified Cyprus.
Greek Cypriots were reluctant to cede unregulated access to Turkish nationals over concerns that the small island of 1.1 million people would be overwhelmed economically and demographically.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)