It was anyone’s guess on Thursday whether the territory talks at Mont Pelerin, Switzerland, were stalling dangerously or whether the two sides could still manage a last-minute breakthrough on Friday and bridge their considerable differences.
After several hours of negotiations, the leaders broke off around 9.30pm. They and their respective top advisers will be resuming the talks on Friday at 11.30 am (Cyprus time), the Cyprus News Agency reported.
Those discussions would be preceded by a meeting between President Nicos Anastasiades and the entire Greek Cypriot negotiating team.
Friday is the last day of the negotiations in Switzerland.
Meanwhile sources close to the talks expressed fears that a row over procedure threatened to cause a stalemate in the talks about territory.
On Thursday, the leaders held two rounds of discussions, the first starting around at 12pm (Cyprus time) and lasting around two hours, followed by the evening talks that got underway around 7pm and wrapped up by 9.30pm.
At around 8pm, Greek Cypriot media outlets were reporting that neither side had provided its desired land percentages on a joint document relating to the criteria on territorial readjustments.
Throughout the day, reports on both sides of the island spoke of an impending collapse in the talks.
But from Switzerland, sources close to Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci moved fast to quash the speculation.
In a brief statement released late in the afternoon, the sources said: “Contrary to the impression that is being given, there is no crisis.
“Negotiations are continuing at an intensive pace. The process is proceeding according to the agreed framework.”
In a commingled issue, the two sides disagree over the setting of a date for the multi-party conference – considered the final stage of the process and would be attended by the guarantor powers.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci wants the date to be set once the criteria for the territorial issue are agreed, but president Nicos Anastasiades insists no date should be fixed before maps with the territorial adjustments are produced – something looking increasingly unlikely to happen in Mont Pelerin.
Speaking to the state broadcaster on Thursday, government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said a multi-party meeting could only be held once maps had been submitted and the sides were on the verge of a settlement.
The Turkish side sees things differently – they want the territorial re-adjustments finalised at a multi-party meeting where guarantees and security would also be discussed.
The Turkish Cypriots have been claiming that Anastasiades reneged on his agreement to agree to a date for the multi-party meeting.
But claims that Anastasiades has signed an agreement to this effect are untrue, sources apprised of the matter told the Cyprus Mail.
What happened, rather, was that because Akinci felt let down by the UN at New York he sought assurances for a five-way conference from UN envoy Espen Barth Eide.
At a meeting in New York in late September with Akinci and Eide, Anastasiades had agreed to a date being set for the multi-party conference, but when the three met the UN Secretary-General he changed his mind.
As Eide could not force the leaders to sign such an agreement – given that the procedure is Cypriot-owned and he is merely a facilitator – he wrote up what has been described as a ‘proposal’.
The ‘proposal’ set out that once the criteria for territory were agreed in Switzerland, a date for the multi-party meeting would be set.
Although Anastasiades agreed to this in principle, he did not put ink on paper.
This might explain why the spokesman insisted that the president never “agreed” to such a thing, the sources explained.
With one day left for the talks it would seem that nothing would be agreed on territory and there would be no date for the multi-party conference.
Christodoulides glossed over this, saying a joint press statement would be released.
The president had promised that, on his return from Switzerland, he would bring back a map of a federated Cyprus and the territories assigned to the constituent states.
A major element of Anastasiades’ position is that some 100,000 Greek Cypriots refugees should be able to return to their properties in the north.
Akinci, facing his own pressure back home, has indicated he will not accept any en masse transfer of population in the north, and insists that areas with extensive development – such as Morphou – cannot be relinquished to the south post-settlement.
On Thursday evening the UN hosted a dinner for the two leaders at Montreux, a municipality located on Lake Geneva and in close proximity to the talks’ venue.
Turkish Cypriot press said Akinci was said to depart Geneva around noon on Saturday, flying back to the island via Istanbul. He was expected to arrive in Cyprus on Saturday evening.