Talks aimed at reunifying ethnically divided Cyprus stumbled when the Greek Cypriot president called off a meeting with the breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader and cut short a visit to Turkey over a perceived protocol breach at a UN summit.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who has been in Turkey for the World Humanitarian Summit since Monday, refused to attend an official dinner hosted by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan after learning that Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci was also invited.
Cypriot government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides later said in a brief statement that Anastasiades “regretfully” called off a meeting with Akinci scheduled for later this week in light of Monday’s “unacceptable actions”.
He said the invitation to Akinci to the official dinner aimed to diplomatically upgrade the breakaway north of the island, which only Turkey recognises as an independent state. Ankara maintains more than 35,000 troops there.
Implicitly blaming the United Nations for the controversy, Christodoulides said there was “no fertile ground” for Friday’s planned meeting with Akinci in Nicosia.
Anastasiades, who attended the summit, was invited to the dinner but refused to go after he was told Akinci would also be there.
Cyprus’s state news agency CNA reported that Anastasiades said, “Have a nice dinner, I’m not coming” when a UN envoy telephoned him to say Akinci had also been invited to the heads of state banquet.
Akinci, on the other hand, said he was finding the Greek Cypriot president’s reaction to his presence at Erdogan’s state dinner “unreasonable”.
“They are being unreasonable by finding our presence [at the state dinner] hard to digest. Instead of acting on their emotions, they need to move forward using their reason and logic,” Akinci told reporters.
“I attended a dinner hosted by the Turkish president. I was there as a guest like everyone else,” he said.
“After dinner, I went in to an available room and talked to the UN secretary general. Why should this be interpreted as trying to sabotage the peace process?”
The Turkish Cypriot leader also told reporters he is still planning to go to the meeting with Anastasiades on Friday.
“There is no reason for the meeting to be cancelled,” he said. “We are going to get ready for that meeting as planned.”
According to the statement by the government spokesman, Anastasiades said he remains committed to the year-long peace talks as long as “rules of mutual respect” are obeyed and both sides stick to the “jointly expressed will to reach a mutually acceptable solution” without “unilateral actions” aiming at the north’s diplomatic upgrade.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup that Turkey feared was aimed at union with Greece.
The internationally recognised government of Cyprus in the island’s Greek Cypriot southern half is strongly opposed to putting the breakaway north on an equal diplomatic footing because it considers the Turkish Cypriot government the product of an act of war which violated international law.
Neither Turkey nor the Turkish Cypriots recognise the Cypriot government.