The setback underscored the hard work that remains after 20 months of negotiations between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, facilitated by the U.N. Both sides and the U.N. still insist it’s a matter of weeks, not months, before they reach a deal. However, they have only just started to broach the divide between Athens and Ankara, both of which will ultimately have to sign off on the agreement.
Kotzias holds presser
Despite weeks of shuttle diplomacy between the United Nations, the two Cypriot leaders and the three guarantor countries to lay the ground for a Cyprus peace deal at the negotiations in Geneva last week, Kotzias entered the conference with surprise demands for Turkey and Turkish Cypriots, including the full and quick withdrawal of Turkish forces, and reiterated them at an impromptu press conference during a break in the talks.
The Tsipras government seemed to soften Greece’s position on Friday in an informal position paper, stressing that Athens is determined to protect the “considerable momentum” built toward a “just and viable” deal to reunify Cyprus.
“In constant coordination and cooperation with the Republic of Cyprus, we will continue to process and put forward proposals based on the principles we have proclaimed in the areas of guarantees and security, in which we are involved,” the document said, adding that “aggressive” statements have no place in the talks.
Notably absent from Tsipras’ statement was some of the tough talk Kotzias gave on Thursday. In the press conference, Kotzias called for a fast withdrawal of the 30,000 or so Turkish troops stationed in the northern Turkish Cypriot area and announced that foreign ministers would meet again on January 23 — a date the conference parties had not agreed to.
“We believe — and I think rightly so — that the system of guarantees must be eliminated,” he said. “Regarding the withdrawal of the army, we want, first of all, the flow to be continuous, a large withdrawal the first week, if not from the first day, and afterwards a continuous withdrawal. There should be a specific deadline.”
The Greek foreign affairs ministry could not be reached for comment.
Greek Cypriots, Erdoğan united
Kotzias’ comments angered Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader and Cyprus’ internationally recognized president, who didn’t know about the press conference, and raised tension when the conference resumed on Thursday evening.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and the president of the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state, Mustafa Akıncı, kept calm but firm in response, according to a source in the room.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came out swinging with an equally tough stance on Friday. “We have told Cyprus and Greece clearly that they should not expect a solution without Turkey as guarantor. We are going to be there forever,” he said, according to Reuters.
Greek Cypriots want to get rid of the system created in 1960 that gives Greece, Turkey and the U.K. the power to protect the island’s independence and security, saying it’s outdated and unnecessary for a European Union member. Turkish Cypriots, however, are reluctant to push out Turkey, which is the only country that has officially recognized their government since Cyprus was divided in 1974.
Anastasiades and Akıncı have talked about gradually phasing out the guarantee powers and Turkish troops — although they still differ on the number of years and extent of the withdrawal.
The Geneva conference was expected to run for at least a couple of days to give the negotiators a chance to dig into the issue, with the aim of ending with a broad political agreement on how to ensure security once Cyprus is reunified. The hope was that the agreement would clear the way for Anastasiades and Akıncı to work out the last outstanding issues and organize a referendum in the coming months.
Instead, it broke off late on Thursday night and will resume with a working group meeting between high-level civil servants from all sides on Wednesday, after which political leaders aim to meet again soon.