Moment of truth for Cyprus reunification talks

Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are in the final stretch of negotiations to reunite their divided island, after they agreed to meet in Switzerland next month to tackle the touchiest outstanding issues.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akıncı have been locked in intense talks over a solution for the Cyprus Problem for one-and-a-half years, meeting every week for the last few months. The United Nations facilitates the talks, but it’s the two leaders who set the tone, pace and direction.

The aim is to reach an agreement by the end of 2016. They would then schedule separate but simultaneous referendums in the first few months of 2017, and campaign while the new constitution is being drawn up.

It’s a tight timeframe for talks that still need to tackle two of the toughest issues on the table, but the buzz on the island, and in Brussels, is cautiously upbeat.

“Everything is now in place to achieve a win-win situation,” Christos Stylianides, the EU’s Cypriot commissioner for humanitarian aid, told POLITICO last week. He will accompany EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on a visit to Cyprus on Friday. “It is the first time that you can see on both sides, simultaneously, politicians who are for the compromise.”

Anastasiades and Akıncı agreed on Wednesday to resume their talks in Mont Pèlerin, Switzerland from November 7 to 11. The focus will be on where to draw a line marking the Turkish Cypriot community in the north and Greek Cypriot community in the south — which could result in homes and towns being reassigned, likely from the Turkish area to the Greek. Greek Cypriots want to shrink the Turkish community to reflect their larger population and economy, and take back areas that were traditionally Greek.

“The leaders expressed their hope that their meeting in Switzerland will pave the way for the last phase of the talks in line with their shared commitment to do their utmost in order to reach a settlement within 2016,” the U.N. mission to Cyprus said in a statement on Wednesday night.

That last phase will focus on the future roles of Cyprus’ three guarantor powers — Turkey, Greece and the U.K. — and in particular the presence of more than 30,000 Turkish troops in the north. It would likely be discussed in a meeting between the four governments, plus the U.N., outside of Cyprus.

The decision to take the talks to Switzerland is encouraging, but the two remaining issues still risk derailing the entire resolution, analysts said.

The question of whether Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will accept an agreement that diminishes his country’s influence in Turkish Cyprus, and the size of its military presence there, still looms large. Greek Cypriots are still skeptical of Ankara’s support, especially since the failed military coup against Erdoğan in July and his purge of the alleged organizers and their supporters.

“It’s uncertain whether Erdoğan will agree to pull out his troops. After decimating the army, he wants to prove that he is at least as tough as the military,” saidMichael Leigh, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels. Greek Cypriots “will never agree” to Turkish troops remaining after reunification, but a gradual withdrawal could work, he added.

That said, Erdoğan may see several up sides to supporting a solution: the possibility of reviving Turkey’s talks to join the EU with Cyprus’ support, mending bridges with the U.S. and Europe to balance Russia’s influence, and importing natural gas along a pipeline from the East Mediterranean through Cyprus to diversify away from Russian supplies, Leigh said.

“But is this enough? We’ll only know when we reach the moment of truth when and if everything is solved except security and guarantees.”

Now or never

Cyprus has been divided by a U.N.-enforced no-go zone known as the Green Line since Turkey invaded in 1974, after Greek Cypriots carried out a military coup d’état aimed at unifying with Greece. Anastasiades’ Greek Cypriot government is recognized around the world except in Turkey, whereas Akıncı’s self-declared Turkish Cypriot state is not recognized by anyone but Turkey.

Cypriots voted on reunification once before, in 2004, under a deal largely led by the U.N. But Greek Cypriots voted against it after the then-president urged them to reject it, whereas most Turkish Cypriots voted in favor.

This time around, both leaders have long supported reunification. Anastasiades went against most of his political party to vote in favor of the 2004 deal. Akıncı based his presidential campaign on the promise to relaunch talks and pulled off a surprise win against the right-wing nationalist incumbent in April 2015.

Since then, they have reached a broad agreement on most issues, including how to compensate Cypriots who lost property when they were forced to opposite sides of the island 42 years go, how to bring the Turkish side up-to-date with EU laws, and what their bi-zonal, bi-communal federation’s government would look like (although they have not yet agreed on whether the presidency will rotate between them, as the Turkish Cypriots want).

But many worry the window of opportunity will close if Anastasiades and Akıncı can’t hold a vote by early 2017.

“We should work harder because new dynamic might emerge in 2017 which may jeopardize the settlement efforts,” Akıncı said in July. Those include the beginning of Anastasiades’ campaign for reelection in 2018, drilling for natural gas off the southern coast in early 2017 even though Turkish Cypriots argue it shouldn’t start until there’s a resolution, and the change of leadership in the U.S. and U.N., he said.

Meanwhile, pressure is building from the outside too, especially in Brussels, where leaders are desperate for a success story after the migration crisis, Brexit, the war in Syria, terrorism attacks and, most recently, the Belgian Walloon region’s attempt to block an EU trade deal with Canada. Mogherini’s visit on Friday to meet Anastasiades, Akıncı and Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides is aimed at showing EU support.

“Cyprus will become a European island of stability at the center of this very volatile region,” Stylianides said. “It can become a model of coexistence between Christians and Muslims, and you can understand the significance of this in a period when Daesh [the Islamic State] tries to divide people based on religions and cultures.”


Deal without rotating presidency out of question, says Turkish Cyprus

Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı has said his administration cannot put a peace deal that does not contain a rotating presidency to a public vote.

Speaking after an Oct. 13 meeting with his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Nicos Anastasiades, and United Nations special advisor, Espen Barth Eide, as part of the accelerated peace negotiations on the island, Akıncı said any solution must contain a rotating presidency model.

“We emphasize this whenever the occasion arises. It is not possible to present to the nation an agreement that does not contain the rotating presidency. This is very clear. Such a thing is out of the question,” he added.

Speaking after another meeting with the same group on Oct. 14, Akıncı said there had been more rapprochement with accelerated talks between the two sides, adding that there were still differences on some points.

The Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey partially intervened in the north of the island following a coup that aimed at unification with Greece.

Read the rest of this entry »

Solution in Cyprus to contribute to global energy security: Turkish Cypriot president

A solution in Cyprus will help ensure the world’s energy security and access to energy sources, according to Mustafa Akıncı, the president of Turkish Cyprus.

“Depending on the approach of the Greek Cypriots, it would be possible for us to have a federation with two divisions [on both sides of the island] in a very short time. In such a case, the United Cyprus Federation would make serious contributions to the world’s energy security and energy access topics,” he said in a special address during the 23rd World Energy Congress in Istanbul on Oct. 10.

“A new energy corridor between the Eastern Mediterranean and Europe through Turkey would be very secure, low cost and efficient. It would not only benefit the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots in Cyprus, or Turkey, but would also be a huge opportunity and potential for a very large geographical area,” Akıncı said.
Israel and Egypt would also benefit if there is a peace deal in Cyprus, he said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hopes high about ‘once in a lifetime’ chance to reunify Cyprus

The prospect of a breakthrough ending the decades-old division of Cyprus could be delivered at a much-anticipated meeting between the leaders of the island’s two estranged communities.

Reunification hopes are expected to be reinvigorated on Sunday when the president, Nicos Anastasiades, who heads Greeks in the south, and Mustafa Akıncı, who heads Turks in the north, hold talks in New York with the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

“We have prepared this meeting very well and have worked for the best possible outcome,” said Espen Barth Eide, the secretary-general’s special adviser on Cyprus.

That the meeting is taking place at all is a breakthrough in itself. In the 16 months since this latest round of peace talks began, the two men have only ever met together with Ban on one other occasion.

Read the rest of this entry »

Turkish Cypriot leaders hope meeting leads to agreement

 September 24
UNITED NATIONS — Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci says he expects a meeting Sunday with his Greek Cypriot counterpart and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide a road map for reunification of the ethnically split Mediterranean island.

Cyprus was divided into a breakaway Turkish-speaking north and an internationally recognized Greek-speaking south in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup aimed at unifying with Greece.

Akinci and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades have said they have made progress on many issues, including on how to share power in a possible federation. But more work needs to be done. Akinci met with Ban on Saturday and Anastasiades met with the U.N. chief on Sept. 18.

Read the rest of this entry »

90 days is enough to reach a peace deal in Cyprus, says Turkish Cypriot leader

A peace deal can be reached on Cyprus within 90 days if both sides of the divided Mediterranean island are willing and decisive about the issue, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı has said.

“We have come to a point where the willpower, political courage and decisiveness factors weigh more heavily than the time factor. If there is will and decisiveness then 90 days is enough [to reach a peace deal on the island],” Akıncı said in a televised interview on Sept. 15 in response to a question on whether Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades would take a possible resolution to his nation, according to a transcript of the interview published on the Turkish Cypriot Presidency’s website on Sept. 15.

Read the rest of this entry »

Turkish Cypriot leader Akıncı hopes for reunification in 2016

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus aims to conclude ongoing reunification talks with Greek Cypriots this year, Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı said Friday.

“The goal is to make this year, 2016, a year of solution,” Akıncı said following a three-hour meeting with Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Espen Barth Eide, special representative of the UN secretary-general on Cyprus.

He said the meeting had been very fruitful.

Read the rest of this entry »

Greek, Turkish Cypriots have will to overcome differences, Anastasiades says

The leaders of the divided Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities on Friday reaffirmed their differences over territory and post-reunification security but also the will to overcome them through dialogue.

“The differences were identified, but also the will to overcome them through  creative dialogue,” President Nicos Anastasiades said after a meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.

Friday’s meeting was the last one before a summer break. The two men discussed the sticking points of territory, security, and guarantees, which will be revisited during the eight meetings scheduled after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »

Turkey reiterates support for peace talks in Cyprus

Turkey reiterated its support for the U.N.-led peace talks in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus on July 20, which marked the 42nd anniversary of the Turkish military intervention on the island, with a reduced military presence in the national day parades.

“The Cyprus issue, which should guarantee the political equality, legitimate rights and security of the Cypriot Turks, and which we see as a national case, continues to be our priority,” said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Tuğrul Türkeş during the July 20 Peace and Freedom celebrations in Nicosia on July 20. Read the rest of this entry »

Turks cross to Greek Cyprus for Eid prayers at historic mosque

Hundreds of Turks crossed the “Green Line” dividing the Mediterranean island of Cyprus on July 7 to pray at a mosque in Greek Cyprus, a rare pilgrimage made possible by a 2014 accord.

In searing heat, police escorted a convoy of buses carrying the pilgrims to the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque, a site revered by Muslims as the burial site of the aunt of the Prophet Mohammed.

The visitors then held a prayer service marking Eid al-Fitr, the festival that concludes the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Read the rest of this entry »