Wednesday 13 December 2017

Cyprus rivals to hold new peace talks

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, centre, shakes hands with Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades, left, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci at the United Nations headquarters (AP)
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, centre, shakes hands with Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades, left, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci at the United Nations headquarters (AP)

The rival leaders of ethnically-divided Cyprus will hold new talks in Geneva this month, in a significant step forward that could see the final round of negotiations on a peace agreement to reunify the island.

United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres invited Greek Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to a working dinner at the world body's New York headquarters on Sunday night, seeking to break an impasse over how a summit aiming for a reunification deal should proceed.

Mr Anastasiades insisted on first dealing with the issue of the withdrawal of Turkish troops that Greek Cypriots consider a threat.

More than 35,000 soldiers remain in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north after Turkey's 1974 invasion that followed a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Mr Akinci insisted he wanted no pre-conditions.

Mr Guterres said both leaders agreed that the issue of security is "of vital importance" and would be given a high priority.


Mr Guterres said his special adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, would engage with all participants "in preparation of the common documents to guide discussions on security and guarantees".

Mr Eide called off mediation efforts May 26 following the disagreement between Mr Anastasiades and Mr Akinci but said three days later that despite the breakdown "we are indeed very, very close - actually more close than most people seem to understand" to an agreement to reunite Cyprus.

Mr Guterres did not announce a date for the new round of talks, saying they would be held "soon" after consultations with the three guarantors of Cyprus' security - Greece, Turkey and the UK.

He said he will also reach out to the European Union, which was an observer at the first round of negotiations in Geneva in January.

Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally-recognised Greek-speaking south enjoys full membership benefits.

The Geneva summit has to be held in June because the Cyprus government is expected to go ahead with offshore exploratory gas drilling by French energy company Total, starting in mid-July.

Texas-based Noble Energy discovered a gas field in earlier drilling in Cyprus waters estimated to contain more than four trillion cubic feet in reserves.

Mr Akinci had asked Mr Anastasiades to suspend drilling. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots oppose drilling because they consider it a unilateral Greek Cypriot action that ignores the rights of both to the island's mineral wealth.

Mr Guterres said the leaders agreed to continue parallel negotiations in Geneva on all other outstanding issues including the territory that their respective federal zones should control, the return of property or compensation, and governance and power sharing.

The secretary general said he and the two leaders "agreed that all issues will be negotiated interdependently and that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", in accordance with the principles the two sides established in February 2014.

Before dinner began, the UN chief posed for photographers between the two leaders - crossing his hands to hold one with Mr Anastasiades and the other with Mr Akinci.

Mr Guterres smiled broadly but the two leaders did not.

But standing beside the secretary general when he read his announcement of the Geneva talks after their four-hour meeting, Mr Anastasiades and Mr Akinci looked more relaxed and smiled, though they did not speak to reporters.

Mr Akinci told reporters as he headed into the dinner meeting: "What we need from now on is political will and determination more than ever - and more than time."

If both sides stay within principles agreed on in February 2014 and parameters in the joint declaration after the January Geneva conference, "then the way forward can be opened and we are here for that".

Mr Anastasiades told reporters he did not come to the UN "for a blame game".

"I'm always in line with what we have agreed, and I do expect that today we can pave the way for a constructive dialogue in order to reach not just progress but a settlement," he said.


Press Association

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