Turkish Cypriot president, Greek Cypriot leader back UN bid to relaunch peace talks

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Elizabeth Spehar, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNFICYP Mission poses with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar in the buffer zone of Nicosia airport, Cyprus Nov. 3, 2020. (Reuters Photo)

Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) President Ersin Tatar and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades signaled their willingness to support a request from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to explore the possibility of reviving dormant reunification talks, as the two held their first informal meeting Tuesday.

The face-to-face meeting took place at the residence of the special representative and head of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), Elizabeth Spehar, in the buffer zone in Nicosia and lasted about two hours, according to the Presidency of the TRNC.

The spokesperson of the U.N. in Cyprus said in a statement that Tatar and Anastasiades had the opportunity to get to know each other and exchange views for the first time informally at the meeting hosted by Spehar in a sincere atmosphere.

The two emphasized their determination to respond positively to the commitment of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to hold a 5-party (three guarantor countries and two sides in Cyprus) + U.N. unofficial meeting in an appropriate environment.

“At this stage for the Turkish people of Cyprus, an understanding on a federal basis that has been maintained since 1977 does not give much hope, and therefore it is time to sit at the table with new ideas,” said Tatar.

“Therefore, at a time when Guterres considered it appropriate to take this issue further, it was discussed that at a five-member conference, all these issues could be evaluated and the process could be managed in this way,” he added, reminding that the idea of a five-member conference came from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

Tatar added that in the meeting, the issues of the closed coastline of the abandoned town of Maraş (Varosha) in the TRNC, hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean and the unacceptability of the partial lifting by the U.S. of an arms embargo on the Greek Cypriots were discussed.

Pointing out as the TRNC side, they will not try to avoid talking with the Greek administration on improving bilateral relations, Tatar said: “We laid out our position and left the meeting without getting too desperate and without offending anyone.”

“This [Cyprus case] is a joint case. For us, it is very important to act in harmony with Turkey on the main issues,” he added.

“The concept of federation no longer offers any hope and new options should be discussed,” Tatar told reporters.

Tatar, who was elected as the fifth president of the TRNC with 51.69% of the vote in the second round of elections held on Oct. 18, assumed office on Oct. 23.

Speaking after the meeting, Anastasiades said he’d prefer not to make remarks at this stage that might “pollute” the climate. But he indicated that he and Tatar remain far apart on core issues including an envisioned federation which the two sides agreed decades ago would form the basis of any peace deal.

“Without doubt, there is a divergence of positions,” Anastasiades told reporters.

The island of Cyprus has been divided into a Turkish Cypriot government in the north and a Greek Cypriot administration in the south since a 1974 military coup aimed at Cyprus’ annexation by Greece. Turkey’s military intervention stopped the persecution and violence against Turkish Cypriots by ultra-nationalist Greek Cypriots that spanned years.

The TRNC was established in 1983 on the northern tier of the island and is only recognized by Turkey. The country has faced an ongoing embargo on commerce, transportation and culture ever since.

Over the decades, there have been several attempts to resolve the Cyprus dispute, all amounting to nothing. The latest attempt held with the participation of each of the island’s guarantor countries came to an end with no signs of progress in Switzerland in 2017.

Turkey, as a guarantor nation for the TRNC, is currently carrying out hydrocarbon exploration activities in the region. Ankara has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the TRNC also had the right to the region’s resources.

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