Cyprus reunification talks conclude with plan to keep talking

The Cyprus talks. Geneva, 12 January. [United Nations]

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.

The United Nations’ new Secretary-General António Guterres, who hosted the historic conference in Geneva on his first foreign trip at the helm of the world body, said a deal was “close” but not to expect a “quick fix”.

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.

Guterres told reporters he was hoping for a breakthrough at the Geneva conference, which involved rival Cypriot sides as well as Greece, Turkey and former colonial power Britain.

The conference in Geneva brought together the two Cypriot leaders for the first time with top diplomats of the three guarantor countries to discuss security and other sticking points that have blocked progress for decades. A delegation of the EU led by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was also present.

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

Thursday’s talks followed three days of negotiations between Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı aiming to forge a united, two-zone federation.

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“We are coming very close to what is the settlement,” Guterres said during a pause in negotiations.

But he added that major work remained on how to implement and guarantee a lasting peace.

“You cannot expect miracles of immediate solutions. We are not looking for a quick fix,” he said. “We are looking for a solid sustainable solution.”

There was no precise date set for the guarantors of the process – the Greek, Turkish and British foreign ministers – to meet again, but officials said they would reconvene once the sides had codified their positions.

“The discussions today underscored the participants’ intention to find mutually acceptable solutions on security and guarantees that address the concerns of both communities,” a UN statement said.

“They recognised that the security of one community cannot come at the expense of the security of the other. They also acknowledged the need to address the traditional security concerns of the two communities while at the same time developing a security vision for a future united federal Cyprus.”

The parties are trying to reach a security deal on the presence of Turkish forces on the island in tandem with political negotiations on a comprehensive federal settlement sought by islanders.

Security concerns

The Greek foreign minister restated Athens’ position that the guarantor system should be scrapped and told reporters that Turkish troops should leave Cyprus on “a timeline agreed in advance”.

Anastasiades also wants the Turkish troops out, but Akıncı is determined to keep a military presence.

Britain, which also retains military bases in Cyprus that are sovereign British territory, also said it was happy to do away with guarantor system if Cypriots asked, while Turkey insisted the arrangement must be preserved.

Greek Cypriots want the guarantor system dismantled because of Turkey’s 1974 invasion. Turkish Cypriots, targeted by Greek Cypriot nationalists before the war and after the breakdown of a post-independence power-sharing arrangement, want it maintained.

Turkey insists that its troops must remain on the island. “Our position, and the Turkish Cypriot side’s position on this matter is the same. The guarantorship of Turkey and the existence of Turkish soldiers on the island will continue,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters.

“This is an indispensable demand of the Turkish Cypriot people and the most sensitive issue for them.”

In a 2004 referendum, a UN reunification blueprint was approved by Turkish Cypriots but rejected by Greek Cypriots, who represent Cyprus in the European Union.

Recent hydrocarbon discoveries off Cyprus’s shores could help the EU reduce its energy dependence on Russia.

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Recently discovered natural gas reserves in Cyprus’ offshore economic zone could become an incentive for unblocking the island’s stalled reunification talks, a government minister said today (6 July).

Best chance

Diplomats believe Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akıncı, respective leaders of the island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriots, represent the best chance in years to reunite the island.

But there are obstacles ranging from property grievances of thousands uprooted in conflict to more practical difficulties associated with power-sharing and security.

“The fact that we have got this far is a real tribute to the courage and the determination of the leaders of the Greek Cypriot community and Turkish Cypriot community,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a Facebook post.

Maps swapped

Anastasiades and Akıncı tackled thorny domestic questions like the composition of a unified government and land swaps.

In another first, they exchanged maps late Wednesday detailing their visions of how internal boundaries should be redrawn.

Turkish Cypriot leaders have agreed in principle to return some of the land they have controlled since the failed 1974 coup. Under the proposals, Turkish Cypriots would retain between 28.2 and 29.2% of total Cypriot territory, down from about 36% now.

The Greek Cypriot government said that the maps met the terms agreed during previous negotiations that foresees the Turkish Cypriot zone amounting to a maximum of 29.2% of the island, although disputes remain and a final version has not been agreed.

Britain has offered as part of any final peace deal to relinquish about half of the 98 square miles it still administers – equivalent to 3% of total Cypriot territory.

The sides have also discussed the island’s relations with the European Union, with the UN seeking to create a unified nation that would be a full EU member.

While Cyprus has been an EU member state since 2004, Anastasiades’ internationally recognised government exercises no control over the northern Turkish-ruled part of the island, and EU legislation is suspended there until a settlement is reached.

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