UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he intends to invite the rival leaders on Cyprus to an informal meeting "as soon as practicable," but he warns that this meeting must be different and help clarify "the true extent" of their common vision "and outline steps necessary to chart a way forward."
The U.N. chief also warned in a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Tuesday that "time is working against a mutually acceptable political settlement in Cyprus."
After decades of status quo, he said, "changes are happening on the ground that may become irreversible, should the two communities not recommit themselves to resolving their differences peacefully, proactively and with determination."
Guterres gave no date for the meeting of Cyprus' rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders along with the three "guarantors" of the Mediterranean island nation's independence — Greece, Turkey and Britain. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Tuesday that "there's no date I'm able to share with you."
The Security Council was briefed virtually behind closed doors Tuesday on the latest developments by U.N. special representative Elizabeth Spehar, who heads the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Cyprus.
Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the briefing and discussions were private, said there was broad support among the 15 members for Guterres' intention to convene a U.N. meeting at the earliest opportunity. Members also welcomed the positive response of the rival leaders who signaled their agreement to take part with no preconditions, the diplomats said..
Cyprus was divided into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south in 1974 following a Turkish invasion that was triggered by a coup aimed at union with Greece.
Numerous rounds of U.N. mediated talks have ended in failure, with the last push for a peace deal in July 2017 ending in acrimony. That meeting also led to an apparent shift by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots toward seeking a two-state deal rather than pursuing their stated aim of reunifying the country as a federation made up of Greek and Turkish speaking zones.
Guterres stressed that "the primary responsibility for the future of the process remains with the parties."
Following consultations over the past months by U.N. envoy Jane Holl Lute, he said both sides and the guarantors have expressed a willingness to attend an informal meeting under his auspices.
"The purpose of the meeting will be to determine whether common ground exists for the parties to negotiate a sustainable, lasting solution to the Cyprus problem within a foreseeable horizon," the secretary-general said.
Guterres said the COVID-19 pandemic has widened longstanding fractures within and between the island's two communities.
He also pointed to rising tensions in the eastern Mediterranean region over exploration for oil and gas, and delineating maritime boundaries.
Guterres called for serious efforts to defuse tensions and urged dialogue to resolve disputes.
"I continue to stress that natural resources located in and around Cyprus should benefit both communities and constitute a strong incentive to reach a mutually acceptable settlement in Cyprus without any further delay," he said.