Peace talks to reunify the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus intensified Monday as rival negotiators pored over documents outlining each side’s stances on a raft of issues, including the thorny issue of security.
As a second week of talks began Monday at a Swiss resort, officials are trying to crack the issues that have blocked an accord since Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup mounted by supporters of union with Greece.
As well as trying to come up with a set of proposals to address the security arrangements for a reunified Cyprus, officials have a host of other issues to discuss including how power will be shared between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots and how much territory each side will administer.
Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, are joined at Crans-Montana by top diplomats from Cyprus’ ‘guarantors’ — Greece, Turkey and Britain — whose input is pivotal to any agreement.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said all sides are aware of their responsibilities to strike a deal that would allow Cyprus to become what U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres referred to as a “normal state.” Officials said Guterres’ presence at the talks last week helped nudge the process forward after several days when progress was slow.
“We’ve explained yet again that there must be a substantial discussion because we’re in the sixth day of talks and we haven’t started negotiating,” Kotzias said.
Akinci repeated that this week will be decisive for the island’s future.
Key to an overall accord is what will happen to the 35,000-plus troops Turkey has kept in the island’s Turkish Cypriot north since 1974. Greek Cypriots are prioritizing an agreement on security.
The minority Turkish Cypriots consider the troops as undergirding their security and want them to stay. Turkey has said a full troop withdrawal is a non-starter.
But Greek Cypriots, along with Greece, want all Turkish troops they see as a threat removed and military intervention rights accorded to the guarantors under the island’s 1960 constitution abolished. They propose instead an international police force, backed by the U.N. Security Council, to keep the peace once the island is reunified.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said Monday that Ankara “won’t step back” on troops unless the Turkish Cypriots’ security comes “under guarantee” and other outstanding issues are agreed first.
Turkish Cypriots want all remaining issues — including their demand to take turns holding the federal presidency with Greek Cypriots — to be negotiated in parallel in a give-and-take process.
Kurtulmus said Ankara also wants any accord to grant Turkish nationals the right to relocate and transfer money, services and goods to a reunified Cyprus.
Greek Cypriot officials are concerned granting such rights to citizens of a non-EU member country would render the small island of 1.1 million people vulnerable to being overwhelmed by its much larger neighbor economically, demographically or otherwise. Though the whole island is a member of the EU, only the Greek Cypriot south enjoys the benefits of membership.