Cyprus talks collapse without a deal

July 7, 2017 (3 weeks ago) 7:39 pm
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The UN-backed talks had been billed as the best chance to end the 40-year division of Cyprus © AFP/File / Florian CHOBLET

, Crans-Montana, Switzerland, Jul 7 – Marathon talks aimed at ending Cyprus’s drawn-out conflict collapsed Friday without a deal, despite an 11th-hour bid by the UN chief to rescue them.

Cyprus is one of the world’s longest-running political crises and the talks that began in the Swiss Alpine resort of Crans-Montana on June 28 had been billed as the best chance to end the island’s 40-year division.

One of the biggest areas of disagreement was the future of Turkey’s troop presence on the island and its security guarantee for Turkish Cypriots.

The failure to reach a deal follows more than two years of UN-backed efforts to reunify the island.

“I am deeply sorry to inform you that despite the very strong commitment and engagement of all the delegations and the different parties… the Conference on Cyprus was closed without an agreement being reached,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

A map of the divided island of Cyprus © AFP / Paz PIZARRO, Aude GENET

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and later occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

Guterres had been upbeat when he first joined the talks late last week, urging the two sides to seize “a historic opportunity to reach a comprehensive settlement”.

But the tone quickly soured and the UN chief flew back to Switzerland early Thursday in a bid to try to end the stalemate that had set in.

He held a full day of back-to-back meetings with President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci, as well as the foreign and European affairs ministers from so-called guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and Britain.

– ‘People yelling’ –

But after pushing negotiations into Friday, just hours before he was set to leave for the G20 summit in Hamburg, a drawn-looking Guterres was forced to acknowledge the talks ended “without a result”.

Shortly before his announcement, a source close to the negotiations told AFP the talks had become heated: “There was people yelling, a lot of emotions.”

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (L), Turkish Cypriot Leader Mustafa Akinci (C) and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (R) arrive for a photograph during Cyprus peace talks in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana on June 30, 2017 © AFP/File / Fabrice COFFRINI

Guterres, who had previously said the conference would be “open-ended”, said it had become clear there was no point continuing.

“It was obvious that there was still a significant distance between the delegations on a certain number of issues, and a deal was not possible,” he said.

The Greek Cypriots said the talks failed due to the Turkish side’s insistence on keeping troops on the island.

“Unfortunately, no breakthrough was made… due to the insistence of the Turkish side to continue with… the Turkish intervention rights in Cyprus as well as the illegal presence of Turkish troops on the island,” said government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides.

Turkey maintains more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

Several previous peace drives have stumbled over their presence, with Greek Cypriots demanding a total withdrawal of what they say is an occupying force and minority Turkish Cypriots fearful of ethnic violence in the event of a pullout.

Any deal reached would have had to be put to voters on both sides of the island.

A Greek diplomatic source said Turkey’s insistence on a residual troop presence and no review of its security guarantee for 15 years was simply unsaleable to Greek Cypriots.

“This position could not be accepted in a referendum,” the source said.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim blamed the Greek Cypriots for the failure of the talks.

“The southern Greek Cypriot side unfortunately did not show an expected constructive attitude,” said Yildirim.

“Turkey will use all of its rights under international law to protect the rights of our brothers and sisters (in northern Cyprus),” he added.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Greece’s insistence on no troop presence and an immediate end to its guarantor status would have been unacceptable to Turkish Cypriots.

– End of the road? –

Guterres stressed that while the conference had proved fruitless, “that doesn’t mean that other initiatives cannot be developed in order to address the Cyprus problem”.

UN mediator Espen Barth Eide is to brief the Security Council on the outcome of the talks on July 19.

That briefing comes ahead of a vote, scheduled for July 24, on the future of the UN peacekeeping force deployed on the island since 1964.

With peacekeeping forces around the world under threat from US budget cuts and reunification efforts now in disarray, its future — at least in its present form — is now in question.

The Cyprus government spokesman put a brave face on the future.

“The end result was in no way positive but this is not the end of the road,” Christodoulides said.

But Turkey, which had said from the outset that the Crans-Montana conference would be the last, said its collapse spelled the end of the UN-backed talks.

“This outcome shows that within the UN’s Good Offices mission’s parameters a resolution cannot be found. There is no meaning left in continuing within these parameters,” Cavusoglu said.

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