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What is behind the UN-led Cyprus peace talks in Geneva?

May 4, 2021 at 5:17 pm

(L/R): Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Turkish Cypriot Leader Mustafa Akinci and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres arrives for a photograph during Cyprus peace talks in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana on June 30, 2017 [FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images]

Last week, an informal meeting began in Geneva linked to the Cyprus peace talks. It was an initiative by UN Secretary-General António Guterres as he seeks common ground for the resumption of talks to find a lasting solution to the decades-old dispute.

After the failure of the 2017 Cyprus peace talks, it is clear that the UN’s purpose with this meeting was to determine whether common ground exists for the parties to negotiate a lasting solution to the Cyprus problem within a foreseeable time framework. The Cyprus conflict is regarded as the third most important issue facing the UN after Palestine and the Rohingya crisis.

In 2017, the UN-sponsored ten days of peace talks in the Swiss Alps. They came to an abrupt end after erupting into a shouting match over a proposed federal solution. This was a setback for the efforts to resolve the 43-year crisis. The main reason was the lack of political will on the part of the Greek side to share the wealth and administration of the island with the Turkish Cypriots. This was made clear by them and other international actors.

This lack of political will was displayed not only by the Greek-Cypriot leadership but also in Greece generally. This was reflected by the rejection of the [Kofi] Annan Plan in a 2004 referendum in which 75 per cent voted “no”.

Now, four years after their last peace talks failed, rival Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders have met in Geneva to discuss the future of their divided Mediterranean island.

READ: UN, Greece, UK, Turkey hold talks on Cyprus

Officially, the UN Secretary-General announced that he had called the parties to another meeting in order to prevent the total collapse of peace efforts. Sadly, statements made by the Greek and Turkish sides indicate that it is not possible to start official negotiations immediately. Hence, the agreement on an informal meeting with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Turkey.

During this meeting, it became clear that the Greek side is unwilling to regard Turkish Cypriots as equals. “The Turkish Cypriots would not be the sovereign equal in the state and society,” Greek leader Nikos Anastasiadis told Guterres. He rejected the UN proposals. The Greek-Cypriot leader does not accept joining results-oriented, time-framed negotiations under the control of the UN Secretary-General to establish a mutually acceptable cooperative agreement.

Despite the obstacles, the UN remains committed to a peaceful resolution for this long-running issue. Within this context, Britain’s role is important as a guarantor of the island’s territorial integrity, according to the 1960 Nicosia Treaty. However, with Britain no longer a member of the EU it may not be able to act more independently or issue threats to Turkey about possible EU membership. This point was made by Turkish-Cypriot President Ersin Tatar on Sunday as he urged British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to support a two-state solution.

“Thanks to Brexit, the United Kingdom could play a crucial role in next week’s Geneva talks in bringing a peaceful resolution to the political crisis that has divided the island of Cyprus for almost 60 years,” said Tatar.

According to a member of Tatar’s Presidential Committee, it is not difficult to predict the results of the talks in Geneva. “The UN Secretary-General will start to meet with Ersin Tatar first,” he told me. “The UN officials who came to the island for years would first meet with the Greek leaders. This time, the UN Secretary-General will take a big step. This is the diplomatic power of Turkey.”

He pointed out that the Cyprus question is now under international discussion thanks to Turkey’s strong will. “It won’t be resolved by denying the Turkish presence on the island.”

READ: UN chief says no common ground to resume Cyprus talks

To understand what kind of impact Turkey will have on this UN-led peace meeting, it is worth recalling what Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a press conference after the second day of the meeting, notably that the Greek Cypriot leader did not bring any new vision to the Cyprus talks, but repeated the old rhetoric; Turkey will continue to support a two-state solution based on sovereign equality endorsed by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus; and Ankara will not compromise on the independence, sovereignty, and equality of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Cavusoglu added that they were aware that some UN Security Council members might put pressure on Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots, and that the EU might start to consider the Cyprus issue as an EU-Turkey issue. “The EU especially will continue to use the language of threat, as it is important for Turkey-EU relations. We foresee this.”

It is important to understand that Turkey has invested heavily in Turkish Cypriots since the 2004 Annan Plan and has paid a serious legal and political price. With the discovery of vast new energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, it has become unthinkable that Turkey will leave Turkish Cyprus to the interests of rival states.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.