FEELERS sent out by the United Nations for relaunching long-stalled Cyprus reunification talks appeared to falter on Thursday as – in a redux of previous tries – Nicosia and Ankara both set their own ground rules that were inevitably at odds with one other.
On Wednesday UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was committed to revitalising the political process following Turkish Cypriot elections in October.
The government here welcomed the statement, but also stressed that Turkey needs to cease its illegal actions on the high seas.
It noted that President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci reaffirmed their commitment to achieve a settlement based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality as set out in the relevant Security Council resolutions during a meeting with Guterres in Berlin last November.
Anastasiades said however that any dialogue should be conducted in the appropriate context, referring to Turkish provocations in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“In order to form this framework, it is necessary for the threats against the Republic of Cyprus, Turkey’s illegal actions both in the EEZ and with what it mentions from time to time on the issue of Varosha, to cease,” alternate government spokesman Panayiotis Sentonas said. “We need to create an appropriate climate because we cannot negotiate under threat.”
On whether Nicosia’s position remains positively disposed to a five-way meeting consisting of the two communities and the three guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey, UK) despite Turkish provocations, Sentonas said: “What had been agreed is the convening of an informal five-party meeting that would pave the road for restarting talks.”
A day earlier, Guterres said that right after the elections in the north, he intends on convening again the “the five key partners, the guarantors and the two communities and to also restart a dialogue with the leaders of the two communities in the follow‑up of the dinner that I had with them in Berlin a few months ago.”
Nicosia reiterated it was ready to resume talks, but that these should pick up where they left off in 2017 in Crans Montana, Switzerland.
For its part, Ankara said Greek Cypriots must agree to political equality between the island’s two communities, otherwise a new negotiation process will start for a two-state solution.
The Turkish foreign ministry said also a resumption of the process did not mean things would start from where they stayed in Crans Montana, arguing that there was no common ground and vision for a solution between the two sides on the island.
All past negotiation processes, it said, failed due to the fact that the Greek Cypriot side has not accepted the political equality, which is a requirement for a partnership on the island and that it could not be defined in a concrete way. “The underlying reason is the Greek Cypriot’s unwillingness to share both power and natural wealth with the Turkish Cypriot side,” the ministry said.
If a partnership is still desired on the island, it said, political equality, as a principle requirement, should be recognised in advance by the Greek Cypriot side with its entire elements. “If this cannot be done, then the two sides should start a new negotiation process over a two-state solution on the basis of sovereign equality,” the Turkish foreign ministry said. It added that the idea of holding an informal 5+UN meeting, which was proposed by Turkey last year, aims at clarifying these issues.
“Otherwise, … Turkey will not enter into a new negotiation process with dubious grounds and methods that failed in the past.”
Weighing in later in the day, government spokesman Kyriacos Kousios said it was clear that it with its preconditions Turkey seeks to “torpedo” any prospects for talks.
On the local front, the UN chief’s statements prompted responses from parties with several of them, except ruling Disy and main opposition Akel, expressing disagreement with the Guterres’ comments.
Akel spokesman Stefanos Stefanou called on the government to stop going back and forth and send a clear and convincing message that it is ready for the restart of the talks from where they left off in Crans-Montana. “The upcoming moments are crucial for the future of the Cyprus problem and of Cyprus itself,” he said.
Edek leader Marinos Sizopoulos but also the Citizens’ Alliance criticised Guterres for his reference to ‘northern Cyprus’, which they said, was contrary to UN resolutions.
They also criticised him for his “insistence on a five-party and not an international conference”. Sizopoulos said this degraded the essence of the Cyprus problem.
An EU summit scheduled for next week was supposed to show a united front to Ankara over the latter’s aggressive posture toward both Cyprus and Greece over maritime jurisdictions.
Turkey, an EU candidate country and NATO member, has alarmed the bloc by stepping up its gas exploration off Cyprus and claiming rights to waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
The dispute has brought to a head a host of other tensions, from Turkey’s involvement in Syria and Libya to what the EU says is growing authoritarianism under President Tayyip Erdogan.
Gestures by Ankara this week to return an exploration ship to port have only served to complicate a unified EU response from all 27 governments.
“Turkey is trying to divide the member states,” an EU diplomat told Reuters, noting that Turkey had extended the operations of an energy drilling ship off Cyprus until mid-October.
Meanwhile, Cyprus has asked for more time to consider separate sanctions on Belarus in support of a mass pro-democracy movement there, which other EU governments interpret as a way of pressing for similar punitive measures against Turkey.
“It’s fundamentally wrong to be linking Turkey and Belarus sanctions,” another EU diplomat said. “Cyprus seems to be saying it will only approve Belarus the moment Turkey is done simultaneously. But that kills the idea of a swift EU reaction to the Belarus repressions.”
Cyprus denies linking the two issues.