UN chief to gauge next month possible Cyprus talks restart

NICOSIA (AP): U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres intends to meet next month with ethnically split Cyprus’ rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to gauge whether conditions are ripe to resume dormant peace talks, the Cypriot government spokesman said on Monday.

Kyriakos Koushos didn’t provide a specific date for the informal February meeting that will also bring together top officials from Cyprus’ three “guarantors” — Greece, Turkey and Britain.

Koushos was speaking after U.N. envoy Jane Holl Lute met with Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to prepare for the meeting that’s seen as the linchpin to restarting negotiations.

Numerous rounds of U.N. mediated talks have ended in failure since 1974 when Cyprus was cleaved into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south following a Turkish invasion that was triggered by a coup aimed at union with Greece.

The last push for a peace deal in July 2017 ended in much acrimony. It also led to an apparent shift in the stated aim of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots from reunifying the country as a federation made up of Greek and Turkish speaking zones to a two-state deal.

That shift is complicating peace efforts as Greek Cypriots insist that they would never accept a two-state arrangement that would formalize the country’s partition, something they say falls outside federal framework the two sides agreed on 44 years ago.

Koushos said Anastasiades expressed his readiness to attend next month’s meeting in hopes that it would lead to a negotiated settlement “within the agreed-upon framework.”

Turkish officials as well as hardline Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar say federation no longer holds any water after decades of failed talks and that the two sides should consider alternatives including a two-state deal.

Anastasiades has also proposed several undisclosed confidence-building measures to “create the appropriate climate” for negotiations. But he also warned against Turkey’s “unilateral actions” that could heighten tensions.

Turkey’s research vessels — escorted by warships — continue to search for hydrocarbons in waters where Cyprus claims exclusive economic rights. Turkey insists it’s acting within its legally accorded rights to protect its interests and those of Turkish Cypriots, while the Cypriot government says Turkey is in flagrant violation of international law and is harming the resumption of peace talks.