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Cyprus settlement talks fail to make breakthrough at UN

GENEVA: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres arrives to press conference yesterday at the end of a 5+1 Meeting on Cyprus. – AFP

GENEVA: Talks with rival Cypriot leaders failed to find common ground that could pave the way towards resolving the decades-old division of Cyprus, the UN chief concluded yesterday. The United Nations is trying to mediate a deal for the eastern Mediterranean island, nearly six decades since it first deployed peacekeepers.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres travelled from New York to Geneva to oversee the three days of informal talks in various formats, but said they had not managed to overcome the differences between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot positions. “The truth is that in the end of our efforts, we have not yet found enough common ground to allow for the resumption of formal negotiations in relation to the settlement of the Cyprus problem,” Guterres told a press conference.

“But I do not give up,” he said. “My agenda is strictly to fight for the security and well-being of the Cypriots-of the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots-that deserve to live in peace and prosperity together.” The talks were attended by the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, the Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, and the foreign ministers of Greece, Turkey and Britain-the three guarantors of the island’s 1960 independence-plus the UN.

Future talks penciled in
Guterres outlined that the Greek Cypriots wanted to see a bizonal, bi-communal federation with political equality, while the Turkish Cypriots want a solution based on two states cooperating with each other. “This was not an easy meeting,” he concluded. Guterres said the two sides, the three guarantors and the UN would meet again within two to three months, “with the objective to move in the direction of reaching common ground to allow for formal negotiations to start”.

“We are determined to do everything we can to make this dialogue move on and to make this dialogue, at one moment, to be able to reach positive results.” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there was no common ground yet to proceed to formal negotiations, but welcomed the commitment by all sides to meet again in the near future. “The UK will continue to work with all parties to seek a fair and lasting settlement,” he wrote on Twitter.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey occupied the northern third in response to a coup orchestrated by an Athens-backed junta seeking to annex the island to Greece. The Turkish-occupied zone later declared independence, but remains heavily dependent on Ankara. A UN-controlled buffer zone separates the breakaway state from areas controlled by EU member the Republic of Cyprus.

Squaring the circle
According to Greek Cypriot authorities, the conflict has cost some 3,000 lives, left 1,400 people missing and displaced thousands from their homes. Negotiations for a solution have repeatedly failed, with the last round stalling in 2017. The mandate given to Guterres by the UN Security Council is based on finding a federal solution for a reunited Cyprus. Asked whether the mandate should be changed given the positions of the two sides, Guterres said that was a question for the UN Security Council.

However, he was hopeful that consultations before the next set of meetings could create the conditions that might allow them to be successful. “To square the circle is an impossibility in geometry, but it is very common in politics,” said Guterres. Since the last set of talks in 2017, also held in Switzerland, several factors have added to the traditional sticking points over security guarantees, political equality, territorial adjustments and refugees’ property rights. Obstacles to the process include rising tensions in the eastern Mediterranean Sea over conflicting claims to offshore oil and gas involving Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. – AFP

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