November 7, 2010 5:00 pm

Talks are ‘last chance for solution’ on Cyprus

Cyprus might slide towards formal partition if a make-or-break meeting of Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders at the UN this month fails to find a solution to the long-running crisis, diplomats fear.

Three years after the UN began its latest attempt to broker a deal, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has taken the unprecedented step of summoning the leaders of the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to New York in an attempt to end the deadlock.

The talks are set for November 18. But officials in the UN and leading western governments have warned that there is a limit to how long they will back the negotiations, saying they are running out of patience with the inability of both sides to strike a deal.

“If we don’t get agreement now . . . then it really is ‘goodnight, nurse’ ”, a leading diplomat involved in negotiations told the Financial Times.

“There’s a chance the UN will withdraw its good offices in hosting the talks. We’re not going to stay here for ever, going through mindless meetings and meaningless talks.”

Another senior diplomat from a European Union nation warned that the peace talks ran the risk of failing completely. “This meeting is the last chance for a solution because progress so far has been pitiful,” the diplomat said. “We’re approaching the point where it’s time to face up to the painful consequences of failure.” The Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders have held almost 90 face-to-face negotiating sessions in the drive for a settlement. Talks to create a single federal state comprising both communities appeared near success in January after years of often difficult talks. But discussions have stalled because the Greek Cypriots are demanding extra territory on the island before they agree to abandon their historic rights to property that is on the Turkish side.

The pace of talks has also slowed since Dervis Eroglu was elected Turkish Cypriot president last April, replacing Mehmet Ali Talat.

Critics of Demetris Christofias, the Republic of Cyprus president, said the Greek Cypriots were using filibustering tactics. “The Greek Cypriot leadership pulls back when advisers are close to agreeing,” said one person with knowledge of the talks.

The senior EU diplomat said failure to strike a deal this year would bring a real risk that Cyprus would move to formal partition. While the Greek part of the island is an internationally recognised state and member of the EU, the TRNC is formally recognised only by Turkey. “If there is no significant progress by the end of 2010, it will have disastrous consequences and Cyprus could be permanently divided in 2011,” the diplomat said.

“Withdrawal of the UN good offices after a failed peace process means that a non-negotiated partition becomes a real possibility and Turkey would likely push for wider recognition of the TRNC.”

According to the diplomat, the TRNC’s prospects of being recognised as an independent state have increased after an International Court of Justice ruling that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law. “Partition will damage Cyprus economically, politically and culturally,” the diplomat told the FT.

“It will also threaten broader regional instability because it will mean Turkey and Greece have to spend more militarily on preserving the formal border across the island.”

Diplomats said the Greek Cypriots wanted all their property in the north of the island – comprising 75 per cent of total property in the TRNC – reinstated. The Turkish Cypriots want to keep the property and pay the Greek Cypriots compensation instead. “Both sides have started to come together on some aspects of the negotiation but haven’t reached sufficient convergence,” a UN official said.

Mr Eroglu wants to reach agreement on property before moving on to other areas. The sensitivity of the issue was confirmed last week when Turkish and Turkish Cypriot politicians met to discuss how to finance any compensation for Greek Cypriot owners.

Leaked reports of the session, attended by a Turkish bank chief executive, sparked a furore. “If things carry on as they are then it’s just negotiations for the sake of negotiations,” said a Turkish Cypriot official, adding that the New York meeting could produce simply an “X-ray photo” of the stalemate or a “prescription to break the deadlock”.

Additional reporting by Kerin Hope in Athens and Delphine Strauss in Ankara

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