|UN Cyprus talks in Geneva on 12 January (UN)|
The most promising United National efforts in 14 years to reunite the island of Cyprus were inaugurated on Thursday in Geneva.
The UN's new Secretary-General, Antonio Guterrez, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, were on hand for the opening of direct talks between the President of the Republic of Cyprus Nikos Anastasiadis and president of the Turkish Cypriot community Mustafa Akinci. Also in attendance were the foreign ministers of Cyprus' so-called guarantor powers, Greece, Turkey and Britain.
Remarks on all sides were broadly optimistic. "We are coming very close to what is the settlement, in relation to the creation of a bi-zonal, [bi-communal] federal institution in the Republic of Cyprus," said Antonio Guterrez. He warned journalists to be patient, however. "You cannot expect miracles or immediate solutions. We are not here for a quick fix," he said.
Greek-Cypriots struck down a previous peace proposal in an April 2004 referendum. The key difference between that proposal, known as the Annan Plan, and this round of talks, is that the Annan Plan was handed down to the two sides by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. This time, Greek and Turkish Cypriots have spent 20 months preparing proposals themselves.
Anastasiadis and Akinci, who enjoy a rare rapport, have already discussed most aspects of the deal. The Geneva talks are expected to focus on the key aspect of security, which is likely to be the biggest hurdle to a final deal. Greece, Cyprus and Britain currently guarantee Cypriot security under the terms of the island's independence in 1960; but guarding the guardians has turned out to be the biggest problem with this arrangement. Greece attempted to install a puppet Cyprus government by coup in 1974. Turkey invaded the island in response and continues to occupy 37 percent of it by force.
Greece and Cyprus, which is Greek Cypriot-dominated, now take the position that the Treaties of Guarantee are out of place in a sovereign EU member state, and need to be scrapped. Turkey disagrees, and according to some sources wants to establish a permanent military base on the island in return for giving up its status as guarantor power. Greece and Cyprus publicly denounce any such permanent military presence by Turkey.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias stressed on Thursday that Turkish troops should depart immediately upon the adoption by referendum of a deal: "We want a constant flow - a large departure in the first week, if not the first day, and then a continuous departure." One of the main objections expressed by Greek-Cypriots to the 2004 proposal was that it scheduled the departure of Turkish troops over 19 years.
Kotzias did publicly voice a compromise proposal: "We could agree to the creation... of an international team, which will observe and compose, under the auspices of the UN Security Council, reports on the implementation of decisions."
"Our position, and the Turkish Cypriot side's position on this matter is the same," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters after the day's talks, according to Reuters. "The guarantorship of Turkey and the existence of Turkish soldiers on the island will continue... This is an indispensable demand of the Turkish Cypriot people and the most sensitive issue for them."
The Greek and Turkish Cypriot negotiating teams are to continue talks on January 18. The UN Conference is to resume once they have submitted their reports.