Cyprus leaders under pressure to strike peace deal

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (R) during a meeting with United Nations Special Adviser on Cyprus Espen Barth Eide (2-R) at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, 16 June 2017. [Katia Christodoulou/EPA]

Rival Cypriot leaders at a make-or-break summit in Switzerland this week will come under pressure to finally seal an elusive peace deal for their divided island or face the consequences.

“We are looking for a final settlement… We expect both parties to come with determination, will and leadership for a final settlement,” a UN spokesperson told AFP.

“We are expecting all parties to come to the table and settle this once and for all, including Greece, Turkey and Britain,” the three so-called guarantor powers of the former British colony.

President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akıncı are to resume the UN-led reunification talks on Wednesday (28 June) in the Alpine ski resort of Crans-Montana.

The conference is expected to run for at least 10 days, according to officials. A representative of the European Union will attend as an observer, along with the guarantor powers.

Guterres, Juncker head to Geneva for Cyprus talks

New UN chief Antonio Guterres will attend talks in Geneva today (12 January) aimed at ending decades of stalemate in a divided Cyprus, in his first foreign trip since taking office on 1 January. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will also be there.

It has yet to be confirmed if UN chief António Guterres will take part.

UN-backed Cyprus peace talks held in Geneva in January failed to make any headway.

The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

Turkey maintains around 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus.

The Cyprus talks moved to Switzerland after negotiations on the island hit a dead end more than two years into the UN-brokered process.

Cyprus reunification talks conclude with plan to keep talking

Talks to resolve the decades-old division of Cyprus ended without agreement yesterday (12 January) but with a plan for officials to reconvene on 18 January to tackle its thorny security question, before a fresh attempt to forge a political deal.

Top of the agenda is a new security arrangement for a post-settlement federal Cyprus. This would involve the guarantor powers, which retain the right of military intervention.

Unlocking security would allow Anastasiades, who heads the island’s internationally recognised government, and Akıncı to make concessions on other core issues.

Turkish language still far away from official EU status

In early 2016, Cyprus asked the EU to recognise Turkish as an official language, in an attempt to boost its reunification process. Over one year later, this request has made little headway.

Turkish proposal on security

But major differences remain over a new security blueprint.

The Greek Cypriot side seeks an agreement in Switzerland on the Turkish military presence, while the Turkish Cypriots want the conference to focus on broader issues of power-sharing, property rights and territory.

Anastasiades’s government, backed by Athens, is pressing to abolish the intervention rights and for Turkish troops to withdraw from the island on a specific timeline.

On the other side, the Turkish Cypriots and Ankara will argue to retain some form of intervention rights and a reduced number of troops remaining in the north.

A diplomatic source told AFP that Turkey is ready to bring a proposal to the table.

“The Turkish side is willing to reduce troop numbers by 80% and put this on the table. It is not realistic for the Greek Cypriots to say ‘no troops’ and ‘no guarantees’,” said the source.

Analysts also view the security issue as the key battleground.

“What we can hope for is progress on the security chapter which will determine the outcome of the meeting in Switzerland,” said Hubert Faustmann, a political science professor at the University of Nicosia.

“In the best possible case, Turkey offers a security deal that has a sunset clause for the presence of the Turkish troops, anything less than that and Anastasiades is unlikely to agree and the conference will fail,” he added.

The United Nations, which has 950 peacekeepers serving in Cyprus, could have some oversight role to implement new security arrangements.

Faustmann argued that failure in Switzerland could prompt the world body to seriously review its peacekeeping mission (UNFICYP) on Cyprus.

“There will be consequences within the UNFICYP mandate, if the talks fail the UN’s Good Offices will be closed.”

Negotiations have focused on creating a new federation in Cyprus but disagreements over the return of property, territorial adjustments and power-sharing have yet to be fully resolved.

A group of Greek and Turkish Cypriots has been organising protests across the UN-controlled buffer zone in Nicosia urging the leaders to go the final mile.

“They more or less know what a final settlement will look like. The only thing necessary now is to have the will and courage to make the political decisions to get there,” said peace activist Esra Aygin.

The talks are also complicated by a Greek Cypriot presidential election next February and the island’s search for oil and gas that Ankara wants suspended until the negotiations have reached an outcome.

Cyprus will develop offshore gas irrespective of reunification

Cyprus will continue its project of developing offshore gas, keeping this dossier “completely separate” from the negotiations for the reunification of the island, the Cypriot Minister of Energy, Yorgos Lakkotrypis, said today (26 May).

After a UN reunification blueprint was rejected by Greek Cypriots in a referendum in 2004, Cyprus joined the EU still a divided island, with the breakaway north recognised only by Turkey.

Any Cyprus peace accord will have to be put to a new vote.