TALKS on the issue of territory came to a dramatic close late on Friday, as the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders agreed to resume the talks in Geneva next Sunday, after a week’s break.
A marathon five-hour session between President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on Friday night produced “significant progress” but was not enough to close the issue of territory altogether.
Instead, it was agreed that, following a week-long break, the two leaders and their delegations will resume talks on territory in Geneva next Sunday.
A brief statement issued by the United Nations after the Friday meeting said that during the past five days, the chapter on territory and all other issues “were discussed interdependently”.
“Upon request of the Greek Cypriot leader, Mr Anastasiades, it has been decided by the two leaders to take a recess and reconvene in Geneva on Sunday, 20 November 2016, to continue their deliberations,” the statement said.
“The two leaders, once again, wish to express their gratitude to the Government of Switzerland for its generosity and hospitality in hosting this event and for the invaluable support provided to them and their teams throughout this week.”
The Greek Cypriot delegation returns to Cyprus on Saturday morning, whereas the Turkish Cypriots will arrive later in the day, after a stop-over in Turkey.
Sensing that the leaders might have been within reach of substantial progress – agreement on territory – political parties back in Cyprus called for Anastasiades to not commit to anything until he has called and briefed the National Council.
Reports that a National Council meeting might have been scheduled for Wednesday were denied by government sources.
Anastasiades had set agreement on territory as a necessary prerequisite to move on the next – and final – phase of the talks, a multi-party international conference to discuss security and guarantees.
Friday, scheduled to be the last day of talks in Switzerland, appeared to be the most critical in this round of talks, after a deadlock was apparently averted the previous day.
Things did not look good on Thursday as the two sides failed to find common ground on the territorial criteria.
But according to Politis correspondent Giorgos Kaskanis, there had been a reversal of the situation on Thursday evening, as the sides agreed to discuss three, out of a long list of criteria – namely the return of refugees, percentage of territory, and coastline.
Anastasiades and Akinci agreed to focus and seek an agreement on those.
Speaking on Thursday evening, Anastasiades said Friday “is the most critical day” that will decide whether the sides were within reach in order to finalise an agreement or continue their deliberations in Cyprus.
UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide said a lot of progress had been made but there were a lot of outstanding issues.
“Everything is on the table we have concentrated most of our time on the territorial issues, the criteria for territory while always remembering the context which this is happening, and I will echo what both Mr Akinci and Mr Anastasiades have been saying that tomorrow (Friday) is a crucial day, may be one of the most important days of the entire process and I have expectations that we will get it right,” he said.
Eide said he was optimistic that the hurdles could be overcome.
“Remember that there is in living memory we’ve never had this situation where leaders of the two communities have directly negotiated these issues,” he said. “We need to understand that it is hard, this is an emotionally charged issue for both sides, it’s about loss but also current life, and it’s very important that these things get right because if you can make tomorrow work I think I would be an optimist for the rest of the road towards the future.”