Cypriot leaders promise to back UN peace initiative

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Rival Cypriot leaders held a ‘break-the-ice’ meeting on Wednesday where they promised to support a United Nations-led Cyprus peace push also involving Greece, Turkey and Britain.

It was the first meeting of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatas since the Ankara-backed hardliner was elected in the occupied north.

In a carefully worded UN statement, there was no clear timeline for when talks about resuming peace negotiations would begin or whether the two leaders would meet again.

“Mr Tatar and Mr Anastasiades expressed their determination to positively respond to the UN Secretary-General’s commitment to explore the possibility to convene an informal five-plus-United Nations meeting, in a conducive climate, at an appropriate stage,” a brief UN statement said.

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.

Britain, Greece, and Turkey are guarantor powers of the island’s sovereignty under a treaty signed by Cyprus to gain independence from British rule in 1960.

The leaders’ two-hour informal get-together took place at the Chief of Mission Elizabeth Spehar’s residence in Nicosia’s UN-controlled buffer zone.

“It provided them an opportunity to get to know each other and to have their first informal exchange of views in a cordial atmosphere,” the UN said.

Voters in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) 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, he edged out previous Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, 72, a supporter of reunification with the Greek Cypriot south.

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.

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

He hopes to get Greece, Turkey, and Britain more involved to build some momentum which is currently lacking.

The TRNC is 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 drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters 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.