NICOSIA – More than 41 years after Turkey invaded Cyprus, new hopes have emerged it will finally be unified – despite faltering talks.
Negotiations will enter a “critical phase” now with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, having missed a self-imposed May deadline for a deal, hoping to have one by the end of the year.
That’s the same kind of optimism that has arisen before only be constantly dashed and as the two sides still are at odds over the most important issues, such as property seized by Turks on the northern third of the island still under occupation.
The two were to renew talks on Aug. 23 in a bid to solve a dilemma that has thwarted a legion of diplomats and envoys over the decades.
“There is a greater sense of urgency than I can ever remember,” an EU diplomatic source close to the talks told the British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph.
“There is a real sense that the time for a deal is now, and the window for a deal will start to close after the end of this year,” the official added.
The two sides reportedly have come closer together on the issue of property compensation.
A total of 380,000 acres of land were abandoned by Greek Cypriots as the island split along ethnic lines in 1974, while on the other side, 110,000 acres that once belonged to the Turkish Cypriot community is now in Greek-Cypriot hands.
The big sticking points remain Turkey’s refusal to recognize Cyprus, whose ships and planes are also banned from entering Turkey, and the 35,000-strong standing Turkish army in the occupied territories.
Anastasiades also is said to favor allowing to share the Presidency with a Turk every other term, which has drawn furious fire from critics angry over Turkey’s keeping of an army on the island.
Hopes that Turkey would not stand in the way of the deal by refusing to withdraw its forces were boosted last week by a press conference between Akinci, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has the last word.
Erdogan said a deal would “contribute to the region’s security, stability and prosperity” and did not rule out a Turkish withdrawal but has still refused to recognize Cyprus and said it doesn’t exit.
James Sawyer, Cyprus analyst with the Eurasia Group, said the failed coup attempt in Turkey had improved prospects for a deal since it weakened the Turkish military which had previously objected to withdrawal, The Telegraph added.
“Erdogan’s remarks suggest that reunification remains on track and that on the whole, Turkey has more interest in supporting reunification of the island,” Sawyer said. Erdogan also is eyeing lucrative hopes for energy finds off the island in Cyprus’ sovereign waters.
Akinci and Anastasiades will hold a series of meetings up to Sept. 14 when the United Nations General Assembly meets.
But analysts said their hopes for a deal by years-end are unlikely and that talks would likely go on until 2017 and involve international level figures who have failed repeatedly to help find an answer.
That will then need to be ratified by both Turkish and Greek electorates in a referendum similar to one in 2004 approved by Turks but rejected by Cypriots.
If the two sides fail to get a deal by early next year, diplomats fear that the political momentum will vanish as Cyprus readies a 2018 Presidential election.
Even if a deal is reached between the two leaderships, diplomats told the paper that it is not a conclusion that both sides will ratify the deal, particularly if financial compensation to be offered on ‘lost’ properties it fails to meet the expectation of the electorate.
Turkey still hopes to enter the European Union, of which Cyprus is a member, and has no chance without the island’s reunification as Cyprus could veto the bid, as could Greece, which supports Ankara’s entry so far.