Rival Cypriot leaders to meet next week

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Rival Cypriot leaders will hold a rare meeting next week in the wake of Ankara-backed hardliner Ersin Tatar becoming the newly elected leader of the breakaway north of divided Cyprus, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

It will be the first meeting between Republic of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Tatar but no major decisions are expected to come from their get-together.

“Today, the new Turkish Cypriot leader… and the Greek Cypriot leader…have confirmed their intention to meet for the first time on Tuesday 3 November 2020,” said a UN statement on Tuesday.

It said the “informal meeting” will take place at 7 pm under the auspices of the chief of mission in Cyprus, Elizabeth Spehar at her official residence in the UN-controlled buffer zone.

“Spehar looks forward to hosting Mr Anastasiades and Mr Tatar for their first informal meeting together as the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities,” said the statement.

There have been no official UN-sponsored Cyprus settlement negotiations since a conference in Switzerland – also involving Turkey, Britain, and Greece – collapsed in July 2017.

Voters in the self-proclaimed ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ on October 18 narrowly elected the right-wing nationalist Tatar at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

An advocate of a two-state solution with the Republic of Cyprus — an EU member — he edged out previous Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, 72, a supporter of reunification.

Tatar, 60, clinched his surprise victory in the second round of presidential elections, winning 51.7 per cent of the vote.

Cyprus has been divided since Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third in 1974 in reaction to a Greek-engineered coup aiming to annex the island.

Last week, Anastasiades and Tatar agreed in a phone call to a break-the-ice meeting.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said he wants to rekindle talks between the two sides after the elections in the north.

In his victory speech, Tatar said he would return to the negotiating table “when necessary”, but said that Turkish Cypriots would “not compromise” on certain points essential to their “sovereignty”.

The Turkish Cypriots are economically and politically dependent on Turkey — not least because some 30,000 Turkish troops are on Cypriot soil.

Northern Cyprus is a centrepiece of Turkey’s strategy in the eastern Mediterranean, including a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves.

The European Union has deplored Turkey’s “illegal drilling” for hydrocarbons and warned Ankara against further “provocations”.

Tatar was also behind reopening the Greek Cypriot resort of Varosha, a sealed-off ghost town since 1974.

Anastasiades has said the move goes against international law and is an obstacle to resuming stalled peace talks.