Cyprus peace talks collapse without agreement

Crans-Montana, Switzerland: Marathon talks aimed at ending Cyprus’s drawn-out conflict collapsed early on Friday without a deal, despite an 11th-hour bid by the UN chief to rescue them.
Cyprus is one of the world’s longest-running political crises and the UN-backed talks that began in the Swiss Alpine resort of Crans-Montana on June 28 had been billed as the best chance to end the island’s 40-year division.
The failure to reach a deal brings an end to more than two years of UN-backed efforts to resolve the conflict.
“I am deeply sorry to inform you that despite the very strong commitment and engagement of all the delegations and the different parties… the Conference on Cyprus was closed without an agreement being reached,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974. Guterres was upbeat when he first joined the Crans-Montana talks late last week, describing the negotiations as “highly constructive”, and urging the rival Cypriot sides to seize “a historic opportunity to reach a comprehensive settlement to the conflict that has divided Cyprus for too many decades”.
But the tone quickly soured and the UN chief flew back to Switzerland early on Thursday in a bid to try to end the stalemate that had set in.
He held a full day of back-to-back meetings with President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek-Cypriot leader, and his Turkish-Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci, as well as the foreign and European affairs ministers from so-called guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and Britain.
But after pushing negotiations into Friday, just hours before he was set to leave for the G20 summit in Hamburg, a drawn-looking Guterres was forced to acknowledge that the talks ended “without a result”.
Shortly before his announcement, a source close to the negotiations said the talks had become heated: “There was people yelling, a lot of emotions.”
Guterres, who had previously said the conference would be “open-ended”, said it had become clear there was no point continuing.
“It was obvious that there was still a significant distance between the delegations on a certain number of issues, and a deal was not possible,” he said. Much the biggest of the areas of disagreement was the future of Turkey’s troop presence on the island and its security guarantee for Turkish Cypriots.
“Unfortunately, no breakthrough was made… due to the insistence of the Turkish side to continue with… the Turkish intervention rights in Cyprus as well as the illegal presence of Turkish troops on the island,” said Cyprus government spokesperson Nikos Christodoulides.
Turkey maintains more than 35,000 troops on the island, and any prospects of reunification largely hinge on a drastic reduction of Ankara’s military presence.
Several previous peace drives have stumbled over the issue, with Greek Cypriots demanding a total withdrawal of what they say is an occupying force and minority Turkish Cypriots fearful of ethnic violence in the event of a pullout.
Any deal reached would have had to be put to voters on both sides of the island.
A Greek diplomatic source said Turkey’s insistence on a residual troop presence and no review of its security guarantee for 15 years was simply unsaleable to Greek Cypriots.
“This position could not be accepted in a referendum,” the source said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Greece’s insistence on no troop presence and an immediate end to its guarantee would have been unacceptable to Turkish Cypriots.
Guterres stressed that while the Crans-Montana conference had proved fruitless, “that doesn’t mean that other initiatives cannot be developed in order to address the Cyprus problem”.
UN mediator Espen Barth Eide is to brief the Security Council on the outcome of the talks on July 19.
That briefing comes ahead of a vote, scheduled for July 24, on the future of the UN peacekeeping force deployed on the island since 1964.
With peacekeeping forces around the world under threat from US budget cuts and reunification efforts now in disarray, its future — at least in its present form — is now in question.
The Cyprus government spokesman put a brave face on the future. “The end result was in no way positive but this is not the end of the road,” Christodoulides said.
But Turkey, which had said from the outset that the Crans-Montana conference would be the last, said its collapse spelled the end of the UN-backed talks.
“This outcome shows that within the UN’s Good Offices mission’s parameters a resolution cannot be found. There is no meaning left in continuing within these parameters,” Cavusoglu said. — AFP