Cyprus' rival leaders ready to meet UN chief to seek peace again

Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders hold first informal meeting in months but fail to make major breakthrough.

    Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci speak with Elizabeth Spehar, head of UNFICYP Mission [Reuters]
    Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci speak with Elizabeth Spehar, head of UNFICYP Mission [Reuters]

    Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders have held an informal meeting during which they expressed readiness to meet the United Nations chief to discuss possible steps to resume peace talks on ending the island's decades-long division.

    In their first meeting since February, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on Friday held talks for more than three hours in the UN compound in the buffer zone which divides the capital, Nicosia.

    The two leaders had a "sincere and constructive exchange of views", UN spokesman Aleem Siddique said in a statement, adding that they would carry on discussions with UN envoy Jane Holl Lute to prepare the ground for "structured and results-oriented" negotiations leading to a peace deal "with a sense of urgency".

    Anastasiades said after the talks that Lute's contacts aimed at preparing a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, even as he admitted that serious disagreements remained in resolving one of the world's most enduring conflicts.

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    "We have a good climate, we have a common basis on which talks can take place, but I must admit that disagreements remain on serious matters," Anastasiades told reporters.

    The hoped-for meeting with Guterres would take place after next month's UN General Assembly session in New York and would size up prospects for a resumption of peace talks.

    An informal conference involving officials from Cyprus' "guarantors" - Greece, Turkey and Britain - would precede formal peace talks to ensure that all sides would be working towards the same goal.

    Energy dispute

    Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north in response to a brief Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece.

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    Ankara keeps more than 30,000 troops in northern Cyprus, a breakaway state recognised only by it and which it supports politically and financially.

    At present, Cyprus's internationally-recognised government is comprised solely of Greek Cypriots, a legacy of a constitutional breakdown in 1963 when a power-sharing administration with Turkish Cypriots crumbled amid violence.

    Numerous attempts over the years at reaching a deal on reunifying the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation have failed.

    The new effort to revive peace negotiations, which last collapsed in Switzerland in July 2017, was overshadowed by escalating tensions between the two sides over oil and gas exploration in the waters off the coast of the eastern Mediterranean island.

    The UN statement on Friday marked little progress since the leaders' last informal meeting, with no mention of the dispute over offshore energy wealth.

    EU members Cyprus and Turkey have argued for years over the ownership of fossil fuels in the Mediterranean.

    Ankara says that areas Cyprus claims encroach on its own continental shelf, and that in other cases Turkish Cypriots are entitled to a share of the resources.

    It has dispatched two drill vessels to conduct operations east and west of Cyprus. The move prompted the EU to suspend talks with Turkey on a comprehensive air transport agreement and to freeze any high-level dialogue with Ankara.

    Anastasiades said he was willing to keep Akinci informed on Cyprus' energy developments, but said a proposal from the Turkish Cypriot side for a committee to jointly administer hydrocarbons was not possible.

    Activities in an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was a sovereign competency of a state and not a commission, he said.

    Nicos Anastasiades: Cyprus, Turkey and the gas standoff

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    Nicos Anastasiades: Cyprus, Turkey and the gas standoff

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies