Wednesday

20th Sep 2017

Cyprus talks up in the air

  • The island has been divided ever since Turkey invaded in 1974 (Photo: Marco Fieber)

A week after the failure of peace talks between the two Cypriot communities, the Greek Cypriots are calling on Turkish Cypriots to reaffirm their commitment to the reunification of the island.

The collapse of negotiations also comes amid rising tensions with Turkey.

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  • The goal remains "the creation of a truly independent and sovereign state" said Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades (c) after talks with Turkish Cypriot leader Akinci (r) and UN secretary general Gutteres (l) failed (Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

The Republic of Cyprus said on Thursday (13 July) it would continue its exploratory drilling for oil and gas reserves off its coasts, despite Turkey's opposition.

The Republic of Cyprus is the Greek-speaking part of the island, with the Turkish-speaking part organised in an entity that is only recognised by Turkey.

The island has been divided since Turkey invaded in 1974. It still keeps an estimated 30,000 troops in the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Ankara claims that the oil and gas reserves belong to both communities and has sent a frigate to monitor the drilling operations, while Nicosia argues it has sovereign rights to exploit the resources off its shores.

The face-off comes a week after a round of negotiations in Switzerland between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, collapsed on the question of Turkey's role on the island.

Since 1960, Turkey has been a guarantor of Cyprus' sovereignty together with Greece and the UK.

The guarantors have a right of intervention if they think it is needed. Turkey used this right in 1974 after a Greek coup toppled Cypriot president Makarios.

The negotiations in Crans-Montana were considered as the last chance to reach an agreement on reunification of the island, creating a "bizonal and bicommunal federation," where the two communities would have the same rights.

Chicken and egg

Talks have been stuck for months over the sovereigty guarantee issue, in what a diplomat called "a chicken and egg situation".

The Greek Cypriots would not make concessions on future governance of the island and territory-sharing so long as the Turkish Cypriots would not give ground on security - the presence of Turkish troops - and guarantees.

In return, Turkish Cypriots would not give ground on security and guarantees so long as Greek Cypriots made propositions on internal issues.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, who worked as a facilitator, proposed a package to address the two sides' concerns while ending the guarantee system.

If the two sides had agreed on the package, the leaders of the three guarantors would have met to discuss how many foreign troops would remain on the island, in a transition process leading to their complete withdrawal.

But, according to Cypriot media reports, Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades insisted that no troops remained on the island and no agreement could be found.

According to a Cypriot diplomat, talks failed on another aspect of the discussion - when Turkish troops would leave the island.

Sunset clause

While Greek Cypriots wanted a so-called sunset clause - a fixed deadline for the Turks' departure - Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisted that Turkey keep its right of intervention and maintain a small number of troops at least until a review of the situation in 15 years’ time, the Cypriot diplomat said.

"The difference between a sunset clause and a review after 15 years is that in one case you leave unless you decide to stay, in the other case you stay unless you decide to leave," the diplomat said.

The diplomat noted that the Republic of Cyprus is committed to resuming talks because a status quo would be "catastrophic" for the country.

"There is no plan B for us," he said. Earlier this week, Anastasiades said that his goal remained "the creation of a truly independent and sovereign state, free from any third country dependency."

"I want to tell Greek and Turkish Cypriots that we should unite and look at the prospects of independence, of true independence and integrity of the Republic of Cyprus as an EU member state which ensures the rights of all," he said.

On 19 July, Espen Barth Eide, the UN special envoy to Cyprus, will brief the UN security council about the failed talks. Greek Cypriots hope that the security council will reconfirm the UN facilitating mission.

'Turkey's grip'

They also suggest that they could ask the EU to suspend assistance to Turkish Cypriots if they do not reaffirm their commitment to reunification.

The Republic of Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, wants to "extract the Turkish Cypriot community from the grip of Turkey," and integrate them into the EU, the diplomat said.

Last year, the European Commission set up a Structural Reform Support Service (SRSS) to help Turkish Cypriots to prepare applying EU rules and standards if they join the bloc through a Cyprus reunification.

But if the Turkish side doesn't commit to reunification after last week's failed negotiations, the EU "programmes and policies make no sense," the diplomat said.

Much will also depend on Turkey's attitude.

"Turkey can live with a solution but also can live without a solution," the Cypriot diplomat noted, reminding his country's position that the EU should make Turkey's help on Cyprus a condition to further EU-Turkey cooperation.

EUobserver asked Turkey’s mission to the EU for comment, but its ambassador declined to speak on the record.

Analysis

Turkey holds key at last-ditch Cyprus talks

The Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders meet from Monday to Wednesday, before an multilateral conference on Thursday that could endorse a reunification settlement. Talks could still fail on Turkey's role.

Interview

Cyprus seeks EU support on reunification

EU states should be "more vocal" with Turkey and play a more political role on reunification, Cyprus' EU ambassador told EUobserver.

Catalan authorities call independence vote

After a tense session, the regional parliament adopted a bill organising a referendum on 1 October. The Spanish government has promised a "serene but firm" response to prevent the vote.

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