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Talks to secure Cyprus reunification enter ‘final stages’ | World news | The Guardian

UN soldiers patrol the buffer zone that separates southern and northern Cyprus

foto – UN soldiers patrol the buffer zone that separates southern and northern Cyprus. Photograph: Katia Christodoulou/EPA

theguardian.com – Talks to secure Cyprus reunification enter ‘final stages’ Turkish and Greek Cypriot officials say first direct negotiations since 1974 are ‘best and last chance’ for resolution in Athens

A historic effort to end the division of Cyprus begins in earnest on Monday when Greek and Turkish community leaders resume reunification talks ahead of a high stakes multilateral conference, the first since the island’s partition 43 years ago.

After 18 months of intensive negotiations to settle inter-ethnic divisions, attempts to finesse the details of a peace deal will see Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akıncı pore over maps and discuss territorial trade-offs before tackling the potentially explosive issue of security.

Mustafa Akıncı
The Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akıncı. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

For an island the finer skills of peacemakers has long eluded, the talks are seen as a defining moment in the arduous process of resolving what has long been regarded as the Rubik’s cube of diplomacy.

Ahead of the meetings, the new UN secretary general, António Guterres, called the coming week a historic opportunity. In Nicosia officials on both sides of the buffer zone spoke of “the best and last chance” for a settlement. Other experts described the talks as the endgame.

Nicos Anastasiades.
The Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

“This is the final phase of the final phase,” said Hubert Faustmann, a professor of history and political science at the University of Nicosia. “It will be the first time since 1974 that Turkey and the Greek Cypriots will hold direct talks at the negotiating table.”

A week of fierce horse-trading lies ahead before Greece, Turkey and Britain, the former colonial power – the island’s three guarantors under its post-independence constitution – convene on 12 January to address the issues of troop presence and security in an envisioned federation. Both are seen as crucial to ensuring 1974 is never repeated.

“It is a classical final stage of negotiation,” said Faustmann. “Issues that neither side could agree on and have been kept pending will now be interlinked.”

grafic interactive. Cyprus e mar mediterraneo

The commitment to a settlement shown by Anastasiades and Akinci has helped to raise hopes. The two men have shown a rare moderation, with some tracing their desire for a solution to their shared heritage as sons of the southern city of Limassol. Like Akinci, Anastasiades – who heads Cyprus’s internationally-recognised south – has memories of coexistence and believes time will only work against reunification.

The commitment to a settlement shown by Anastasiades and Akinci has helped to raise hopes. The two men have shown a rare moderation, with some tracing their desire for a solution to their shared heritage as sons of the southern city of Limassol. Like Akinci, Anastasiades – who heads Cyprus’s internationally-recognised south – has memories of coexistence and believes time will only work against reunification.

A man walks through the buffer zone in the divided capital of Nicosia in Cyprus

Cyprus peace talks: Theresa May ready to attend if deal in sight

At a time of unprecedented uncertainty in Europe and growing global volatility, the need for a good news story has also added impetus. From Washington to Ankara there is recognition that a deal would bring stability to the wider region. The prospect of Greeks and Turks, Christians and Muslims cooperating in the continent’s eastern corner would, say officials, send a powerful message and be a beacon of hope.

Acknowledging a settlement will help set the tone for 2017 with Turkey and Britain agreeing at the weekend that a solution would be a game changer. In statements made after the British prime minister, Theresa May, spoke by telephone to her Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Downing Street said both leaders saw the talks as offering “a real opportunity to secure a better future for Cyprus and to guarantee stability in the wider region”.

The discovery of oil and natural gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean and the spectre of Cyprus becoming an energy hub through which the reserves could be pumped to Europe has also helped drive the process.

Because peace talks have floundered so many times before, however, there is consensus that if they do so again reunification efforts could collapse once and for all. Analysts have expressed fears that in event of failure Turkey could move to annex the north, where it continues to station more than 40,000 troops since invading in response to an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece. Guarantor powers have the right of military intervention, a right that Ankara is determined to maintain.

With both sides working on the premise that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, officials are electing to voice cautious optimism.

“The last mile is always the most difficult,” a senior official in Ankara said.

A Greek Cypriot soldier mans a checkpoint in Nicosia
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A Greek Cypriot soldier mans a checkpoint in Nicosia. Photograph: Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

Any agreement will be put to twin referendums, which also raises the stakes. The last time a reunification deal was put to public vote in 2004, the minority Turks supported it but the majority Greeks rejected it.

Persuading the Turks to surrender enough territory to allow at least 90,000 Greek Cypriots displaced by the invasion to return to their homes is now pivotal to any deal.

Turkish Cypriots, citing the inter-ethnic violence that erupted after independence, in turn insist that mainland troops must remain to protect them in the event of renewed conflict.

Time for Cyprus’s reunification has come – but Erdoğan holds the key

The EU, which will likely be represented by the European commission president, Jean-Claude Junker, counters that Cyprus’s membership of the bloc is security enough. Greek Cypriots worry that without a withdrawal of troops their own security will never be guaranteed.

In talks so far, progress has been made on issues of governance, political power-sharing, the economy and the EU. Insiders liken the week ahead to a game of poker, in which concession and compromise will ultimately prevail, and there is thriller-like suspense over whether a comprehensive accord can finally be achieved. Heading to Geneva, Akıncı said it would be impossible to cover everything by the end of the week. The Greek foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, echoed that sentiment, saying the talks were part of an open-ended process that should not be considered abortive if they were not conclusive.

Much will depend on Erdoğan, who has shown more flexibility on Cyprus than other Turkish leaders but is famously unpredictable.

The president, who has not clarified whether he will attend the talks, could exploit a Cyprus solution to improve ties with Europe that have become increasingly strained over migration. “It is he, and he alone, who will decide whether Turkey makes the concessions to solve the Cyprus problem,” Faustamann said. “But which way he will go, nobody knows.”

Sorgente: Talks to secure Cyprus reunification enter ‘final stages’ | World news | The Guardian

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