GENEVA – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots failed to make headway in informal talks on the future of their ethnically divided island, but talks will continue and “I do not give up.”
The United Nations chief invested his political capital in overseeing three days of talks in Geneva aimed at reviving dormant negotiations to reunify Cyprus. But Turkish Cypriots in the island's breakaway north insist on a deal based on two separate states, which Greek Cypriots reject as formalizing partition forever.
The talks were headed by Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar and Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. The gathering was also attended by the foreign ministers of Cyprus’ three “guarantors” — Greece, Turkey and former colonial power Britain. It is the latest attempt by the U.N. to revitalize the peace process since another round of negotiations collapsed in 2017.
Guterres said a new round of informal talks are planned, possibly in the next two to three months.
“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 said. "But I do not give up.”
He summarized the two sides' positions: The Turkish Cypriots believe that decades of efforts to ensure a “bizonal, bicommunal federation” have been exhausted and they now deserve “equal international status” like that enjoyed by the internationally recognized government run by Greek Cypriots in the south.
The Greek Cypriots held to their position for a federation "with political equality on the basis of relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Guterres said.
“As you can imagine, this was not an easy meeting,” he said. “To square the circle is an impossibility in geometry, but it is very common in politics.”
Guterres said he would report to the U.N. Security Council on the different positions taken in the meeting.
Cyprus has been one of international politics' hardest nuts to crack for a half-century. The island was split along ethnic lines in 1974 following a Turkish invasion that was triggered by a Greek junta-inspired coup aiming at union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which maintains more than 35,000 troops in the north.
The dispute has caused friction between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, impedes Ankara's bid for European Union membership and stoked tensions over potential hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.
The majority Greek Cypriots have faulted Turkey's demand for a permanent troop presence as well as a Turkish Cypriot demand for veto power at all levels of government decision-making as deal breakers in previous attempts to reunify Cyprus as a federation composed of Greek and Turkish speaking zones.
Claiming that after decades of failure have made the target of federation pointless to pursue, Turkey and a new Turkish Cypriot leadership that espouses even tighter bonds with Ankara now advocate a “partnership between two equal states.”
“Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots have inherent sovereign rights in Cyprus. We are both equal," Tatar said in written statement. “That is why the U.N. mandate must change, to reflect our sovereign equality and equal international status. Once we level the playing field, I am confident we will have the breakthrough that we all so desperately want to see."
But Greek Cypriots say a federation-based deal is enshrined in U.N. Security Council resolutions, which the sides can't deviate from because it remains the only way forward toward a workable reunification accord.
Speaking to reporters, Anastasiades said Guterres made it “abundantly clear" to Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots that there's “no possibility" to resume formal negotiations based on anything other than U.N. parameters.
“It was something that was noted by the secretary-general that if there's no solution on the basis which has been outlined by the United Nations, then they (Turkish Cypriots) will carry on in the same way, isolated from the international community as they claim," Anastasiades said.
Anastasiades said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell had also told the Turkish side that the bloc can't accept a two-state deal for Cyprus, which joined the 27-member EU in 2004. But only the island's south enjoys full benefits.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Anastasiades of lacking “vision” and sounding like a “broken record,” insisting that Ankara would strongly support the Turkish Cypriots' two-state proposal.
“We will not make concessions on the issue of (the Turkish Cypriots') independence, sovereignty and equality," Cavusoglu said. “If these are recognized, the two states can in the future negotiate how they will cooperate. If they are not recognized, we will continue on our path together" with the Turkish Cypriots.
Menelaos Hadjicostis reported from Nicosia, Cyprus. Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey.