The Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are meeting in Switzerland on Wednesday, June 28th to resume peace talks to resolve the four decades-long dispute dividing Cyprus. Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci will be joined at the Swiss mountain resort of Crans-Montana by the foreign ministers of the three guarantor powers of Britain, Greece and Turkey, and the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. The conference will be chaired by United Nations negotiator Espen Barth Eide, the UN Special Adviser on Cyprus. Significant gains in the peace process were made in January of this year, but the talks broke down over the issue of security. The current negotiations will focus on establishing the security structures in a federal post-settlement Cyprus whilst concurrently dealing with territory size for each side’s federal zone. The talks are scheduled to last until July 7th but, depending on developments, may either conclude earlier or later.
Feelings of optimism were expressed by those going into the talks. Eide said that “after all these decades of division it is possible, it is possible to solve, and I really hope that this is the spirit which everybody goes into this meeting.” UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson claimed it is “an exceptional opportunity for both communities to find a lasting solution for Cyprus, which will bring huge benefits to the whole island and the region.” Similarly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that the “opportunity for the reunification of Cyprus is now finally before us” and urged for “all participants to demonstrate the will and leadership required to conclude a comprehensive settlement.”
The peace talks over the past two years have been the most effective towards achieving the goal of reunification than any others in the past. This has been achieved through a strong commitment and pragmatism by the leaders of both sides in approaching dialogue. There is still a lot of work ahead as Eide noted that “it is not going to be easy, there is no guarantee of success.” Both sides will need to make some concessions in order to progress. Regardless of the outcome of the current negotiations, their resumption is indicative of a willingness to continue the process to finally resolve the dispute.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded the northern third of the island after a coup attempted to unify with Greece. As a result, a UN buffer zone separates the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, with Turkey the only country recognising Northern Cyprus. The reunification talks are close to completing all topics of contention except for the issue of security. The Greek Cypriots are calling for the abolishment of the guarantor system established in 1960, which gives Turkey, Greece and the UK a right of military intervention on the island. They further want the removal of Turkey’s 35,000 troops from the island with the renunciation of Turkey’s intervention rights. In contrast, the Turkish Cypriots want the continuance of the guarantor system, maintenance of its military presence and a post-settlement system with a rotating presidency. It will be a challenge for negotiators to overcome these points of difference.
Reunification has been supported by both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations. If the talks lead to a deal, it will be put to a vote to both sides within this year. Britain is also offering to give up half of its land from its military bases on the island as part of the deal. Pressure has been placed to come to a conclusion on the issue, as there will be presidential elections next February in the southern Greek part of the island. These talks are a step in the right direction and, as Eide emphasised, they are the “best chance” towards ending the dispute.
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