UN-brokered Cyprus talks fail to find ‘common ground’

Informal meeting of divided island’s leaders aimed at resuming reunification efforts

 UN secretary general António Guterres at the Cyprus talks in Geneva: He said the UN could try again in “two or three months”.  Photograph: Martial Trezzini/EPA

UN secretary general António Guterres at the Cyprus talks in Geneva: He said the UN could try again in “two or three months”. Photograph: Martial Trezzini/EPA

 

UN-brokered talks have failed to produce agreement on resuming negotiations for the reunification of divided Cyprus.

Three days of informal discussions involved Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, and the foreign ministers of Britain, Greece and Turkey, which are guarantors of the republic after independence.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, who chaired the meeting in Geneva, said: “The truth is that at the end of our efforts, we have not found enough common ground to allow for the resumption of formal negotiations.” He said the UN could try again in “two or three months”.

Expectations had been low from the outset. The UN, EU, Greek Cypriots and Greece insist on reuniting the island in a bizonal, bicommunal federation, but the Turkish Cypriot and Turkish side have called, for the first time, for a “two state solution” since Mr Tatar was elected president in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state last year.

This has been rejected by proponents of federation as it does not conform to agreements or UN resolutions.

Mr Tatar has argued that decades of negotiations on reunification had failed and the only option is two Cypriot states. Occupied by Turkey in 1974 following a failed coup by the military junta in Athens, the north unilaterally declared independence in 1983 but this has been recognised only by Ankara.

Most Turkish Cypriots oppose the two-state option and seek a fair settlement with Greek Cypriots. Since Turkish Cypriots have secured passports from the Cyprus republic, an EU member, many could move south or leave the island if the two-state solution is imposed. Many Turkish Cypriots are alarmed by the proposal,which they had believed was a bargaining tool for talks.

For Mr Erdogan, promoting the two-state option is opportune at a time of difficulty in Turkey. Covid infections have been on the rise and an unwelcome lockdown has been imposed during the fasting and feasting month of Ramadan. The Turkish economy has contracted, the currency has lost value and inflation has risen.

Support for Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development party and its Nationalist Movement partner are on a steady downward slide ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections,which are set for June 2022. They could be held earlier, particularly if changes are made to the electoral law to benefit Mr Erdogan and his party.

Even before Cyprus became independent, Turkey and Turkish Cypriot allies on the island cultivated Turkish Cypriot separatism and promoted it as a safe domestic issue to be adopted by parties of all political persuasions in Turkey.

Consequently, the shift to the “two state solution” is certain to appeal to Mr Erdogan’s conservative supporters as well as nationalists.