UN-led talks open in Geneva on the future of divided Cyprus

Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to discuss the decades-old division of the island

Turkish-Cypriot demonstrators   rally in the capital Nicosia calling for a federal solution to the Mediterranean island’s problems. Photograph: Birol Bebek/AFP/Getty

Turkish-Cypriot demonstrators rally in the capital Nicosia calling for a federal solution to the Mediterranean island’s problems. Photograph: Birol Bebek/AFP/Getty

 

Three days of informal talks open on Tuesday in Geneva to sound out Greek and Turkish Cypriots on fresh negotiations to end the decades-old division of the island.

The talks, moderated by UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, bring together Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar with representatives of Greece, Turkey and Britain, the external post-independence guarantor powers.

The aim of the encounter is to find common ground between the sides in order to revive negotiations on the future of the island, which has been divided since Turkey occupied the north in 1974 following a failed coup by the military junta then ruling Greece.

Ahead of the meeting, Cypriot foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides said Greek Cypriots are “steadfastly committed to resuming negotiations for reunifying Cyprus in a bizonal, bicommunal federation” – which is the UN mandated, internationally accepted formula.

Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias warned, however, that positions adopted by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots give little ground for optimism.

Turkish Cypriot foreign minister Tahsin Ertugruloglu said: “There is no common ground. The issue is one island, two states.” A “two-state solution” for Cyprus was adopted last year after the election of Mr Tatar, who has the support of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

This would involve international recognition of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state, which is recognised only by Ankara. Until the advent of Mr Tatar, the Turkish Cypriot administration had adhered to the federal formula.

Ankara’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “We believe that we will no longer waste time on the federal solution and that new ideas and [a] new vision should be discussed.”

In a Twitter post he argued that the federal solution “has been negotiated for 53 years without any result. [The] Turkish Cypriot side promotes two-state solution and co-operation based on sovereign equality.”

Two state

This shift is rejected by Greece and the Cyprus republic, which are both EU members, as well as the EU. Greek Cypriots and many Turkish Cypriots support federation and call for an end to Ankara’s influence in the north.

Unable to protest together due to Covid-19, thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots marched separately on both sides of the dividing line on Saturday against the “two state solution” and for peace. Demonstrators chanted, “Cyprus belongs to its people.”

Since there is no common approach or goal, little is expected from these talks. They coincide with rising tensions in the eastern Mediterranean due to Turkey’s unilateral expansion of its maritime continental shelf and exploration for offshore natural gas fields off Cyprus and Greece’s Aegean islands.

Turkey has also threatened to block the construction of an undersea pipeline carrying gas from the region to Europe, compelling Cyprus, Greece, and Israel to join forces to counter Turkey’s moves.