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Chances of Cyprus peace talks restart look dimmer as Turkish Cypriot leader sees no common ground

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May 16, 2024

Chances of restarting formal talks to mend Cyprus’ decades-long ethnic division appeared dimmer Wednesday as the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots told a U.N. envoy that he saw no common ground with Greek Cypriots for a return to negotiations.

Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar said that he conveyed to the U.N. secretary general’s personal envoy, María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar, that talks can’t happen unless separate Turkish Cypriot sovereignty in the island’s northern third first gains the same international recognition as the Cyprus republic in the Greek Cypriot south.

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Tatar was quoted by Turkish Cypriot media as saying that a permanent Turkish military presence coupled with military intervention rights are prerequisites to any peace deal, despite Greek Cypriot attempts to “remove Turkey” from the settlement equation.

Tatar also expressed irritation with Holguín’s contacts with civil society groups that support an accord that would reunify Cyprus as a federation made up of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot zones, in line with a U.N.-endorsed framework.

The majority of Greek Cypriots reject a deal that would formalize a partition through a two-state deal, the permanent stationing of Turkish troops on the island, the right for Turkey to militarily intervene as well a demand for a Turkish Cypriot veto on all federal-level government decisions.

The Turkish Cypriot leader’s remarks don’t waver from a line that he’s consistently kept since his 2022 rise to power. But the fact that he remains unyielding despite four months of Holguín’s shuttle diplomacy doesn’t bode well for a talks restart.

Holguín was appointed at the start of the year to determine what the chances are of resuming formal talks seven years after the last major push for a deal collapsed amid much acrimony.

An agreement has defied numerous, U.N.-facilitated rounds of talks since 1974 when the island was cleaved along ethnic lines following a Turkish invasion preceded by a coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence, and although Cyprus is a European Union member, only the south enjoys full membership benefits.

Holguín has refrained from speaking at length about her contacts over the last few months, but she noted in an interview with Kathimerini newspaper that it was up to the leaders to “listen to the people” and that she had been surprised at Tatar’s rejection of her proposal for a three-way meeting with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides.

Holguín will “soon” prepare a report for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres about her findings over the last five months, according to U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.

Christodoulides struck a more upbeat note on Wednesday, saying that efforts for a resumption of talks continue and that time should be given for diplomacy to work.

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