Progress as unlikely as ever in Cyprus reunification efforts
Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu (R) shakes hands with Greek Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades on Tuesday. (Photo: Cihan, Remzi Samar)
Cyprus talks are unlikely to restart anytime soon despite earlier hopes for a breakthrough in the coming months, as the island's Turkish and Greek sides remain divided over the terms of a fresh round of negotiations on reuniting the island.
According to Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu, the Greek Cypriot insistence on a joint statement outlining the basic principles for the new talks is tantamount to setting out preconditions, something that runs counter to past UN decisions on resolving the decades-long dispute.
Eroğlu held an informal meeting with Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades on Monday evening at a restaurant inside the UN-controlled buffer zone dividing the island to discuss ways to restart the talks, but the two leaders announced that there is still ground to cover before the two sides can sit down for negotiations.
Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders have held numerous rounds of negotiations in the past but have failed to reach an agreement that would pave the way for the reunification of the island. Anastasiades, elected as the president of Greek Cyprus in February, and Eroğlu had hoped to restart negotiations in early October, but the process stalled when the Greek Cypriots demanded a joint statement before the resumption of talks.
Eroğlu, speaking to a group of Turkish journalists on Friday, said the Turkish Cypriot side has initially accepted a draft joint statement prepared by the UN's Cyprus envoy, Alexander Downer. The UN text, however, failed to impress the Greek Cypriot side, which insists on the inclusion of substantive principles, such as single sovereignty for a reunified Cyprus, in the document. The Turkish side, on the other hand, insists that these matters are part of the negotiations and should be discussed when the new round of talks begins.
“As it stands, the Greek Cypriot stance amounts to presenting preconditions for the start of talks,” Eroğlu said.
The request for Monday's meeting came from Anastasiades, who also wanted the meeting to exclude the EN envoy. Turkish Cypriot officials said that the Greek Cypriot side was quite “aggressive” during the Monday meeting -- which is perhaps why Anastasiades did not want the UN envoy to be present.
Turkish Cypriot officials believe that the Monday meeting was an act of “diplomatic maneuvering” ahead of a visit to Brussels, designed to show Europeans that the Greek Cypriot side is committed to reunification efforts. Anastasiades departed for Brussels the next day for talks with EU officials in the Belgian capital.
Plans for envoys' visits falter
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) and Turkey were hopeful that the new round of talks under the newly elected Anastasiades would lead to a solution as early as March. Speaking last month, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu voiced these hopes, saying the Cyprus talks were at a critical stage and that progress would be achieved if strong will was shown.
Adding to the hopes for progress, Davutoğlu and his Greek counterpart agreed at a meeting in New York in September for reciprocal visits to the Turkish and Greek capitals by the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot representatives in the talks. That plan has yet to materialize, despite the Turkish-Greek agreement.
Turkish Cypriot officials say the visits are unlikely to take place as Greek and Greek Cypriot authorities appear to have backtracked on the idea over concerns that it would be perceived as “acknowledgement” of the KKTC and could pave the way for similar visits by KKTC officials to other countries.
Cyprus is divided into a Turkish north and internationally recognized Greek south. The KKTC is recognized only by Turkey, which does not recognize the Greek Cypriot administration.
Eroğlu: Football unification deal ‘wrong step'
Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu expressed concern on Friday over a recent agreement to unify the administration of football on the island of Cyprus, saying it brings the Turkish Cypriot football association under the control of the Greek Cypriot association while offering Turkish Cypriot football little in return.
“This is the wrong step,” Eroğlu told a group of Turkish journalists in Lefkoşa. “If the purpose was to be under the Greek Cypriot federation, this could have been easily done years ago,” he said.
The Cyprus Turkish Football Association (CTFA) and the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) signed an agreement earlier this month to unify football administration in the island.
The agreement, whose signing was overseen by FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his UEFA counterpart Michel Platini, has been hailed as a step toward healing the divided island.
Eroğlu said CFA President Hasan Sertoğlu is now insisting on revising the agreement before he seeks CFA approval.
The agreement envisions the CTFA becoming a member of the CFA as an "association in accordance with the CFA's statutes and regulations."
"Furthermore, the CFA will continue to be a member of FIFA and UEFA as well as the governing body responsible for organizing, servicing and administering football in Cyprus and for all international football activities in the country," the agreement says.
Eroğlu warned that the deal could be interpreted as supporting the Greek Cypriot administration's claim of sovereignty over the entire island and questioned the benefits of the deal for Turkish Cypriot football. “If the hope is for UEFA support, it is again wrong. The support will go to CFA, not the CTFA,” he said.