UN faces tough task to get Cyprus peace talks restarted
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Normally, trying to get the two sides on ethnically divided Cyprus to sit down for yet another round of talks is preceded by plenty of well-wishing and messages of hope that perhaps this time a peace deal will be worked out.
This week it’s different — quite different. The mood is dour even before the two sides agree to sit down for real talks because they no longer seem to share the same vision of how a final peace deal should take shape.
U.N. chief Antonio Guterres will host an informal gathering of the rival Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders in Geneva as well as the foreign ministers of Cyprus ‘guarantors’ — Greece, Turkey and former colonial ruler Britain. The goal is to get the two sides back on the same page and embarking on a fresh round of formal talks.
Guterres’ spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, has urged the sides to “come with creativity” to the informal meeting. Here’s a brief explainer of where things stand:
WHY THE CHANGE?
Over 47 years of talks, the ultimate goal endorsed by the U.N. Security Council had been to reunify a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south as a federation - two zones running their own affairs with a federal government overseeing the core elements of national governance like foreign policy and defense.
But now Turkey and the new Turkish Cypriot leadership that espouses even tighter bonds with Ankara have changed the rules, dismissing further talks about a federation-based accord as a “waste of time” because nearly five decades of talks on that model have gone nowhere. They’re proposing instead essentially a two-state model that Greek Cypriots say they’d never accept because it would legitimize the country’s partition forever.
WHY NO DEAL FOR SO LONG?
Much of how a federation would work has already been agreed upon, but the nitty-gritty details sank the previous round of talks in 2017.
The minority Turkish Cypriots are upset because they say Greek Cypriots refuse to accept them as 50-50 partners in a federal partnership — what they term “political equality” or equal decision-making powers on all levels of government. Greek Cypriots argue that granting veto powers to a minority defies democratic principles and is without international precedent, could logjam the running of government and potentially allow Turkey to meddle in the island’s internal affairs.
Instead, they propose a formula in which Turkish Cypriots would have a say if any law or government decision infringes on their interests. Despite Turkish and Turkish Cypriot resistance, the Greek Cypriots also want the European Union to take part in formal talks in order to assure any peace deal conforms with EU laws and norms.
SOLDIERS OR NOT?
Turkey insists on keeping a military presence on the island for an indeterminate amount of time as part of a peace accord to ensure that Turkish Cypriots are protected. More than 35,000 Turkish troops have been stationed in the north of Cyprus since 1974 when a Turkish invasion split the country following an Athens junta-backed coup aimed at union with Greece. But Greek Cypriots reject such a military presence because they see it as an existential threat and a serious breach of any country’s sovereignty. Greek Cypriots also say any unilateral military intervention rights in the country’s 1960 constitution must be expunged.
WHY A PEACE DEAL MATTERS BEYOND CYPRUS
A Cyprus accord would go a long way in helping to ease tensions between Turkey and NATO ally Greece, as well as helping to get Ankara’s troubled bid to join the EU back on track. It could also unlock a wave of new cooperation between regional neighbors to harness the significant gas deposits believed to lie beneath the east Mediterranean seabed.
Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state, disputes its rights to already-discovered offshore deposits and is prospecting for hydrocarbons off the island. But Turkey has so far remained the outsider in new, energy-based cooperation pacts that Israel, Egypt, Greece and Jordan have forged with Cyprus.
A peace deal would also ease progress on potential projects such as pumping east Mediterranean gas to Europe through a pipeline that would run through both Cyprus and Turkey.