Cyprus deal ‘close’ but don’t expect miracles, UN chief says

Major progress had been made on resolving those questions, there were obstacles ahead on how to implement a deal and preserve it, said the new UN chief Anotio Guterres.

Cyprus peace talks get under way on January 12, 2017 as Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, third from left, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, centre, and Greek Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades gather at the United Nations Offices in Geneva, Switzerland. Philippe Desmazes/Pool Photo via AP
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GENEVA // Cypriot leaders are close to reaching a deal on unifying the island but key issues remain unsolved, including implementing and guaranteeing a final pact, the new UN chief said on Thursday.

“We are coming very close to what is the settlement,” Antonio Guterres said in Geneva after opening a first-of-its kind conference on ending four decades of stalemate in the eastern Mediterranean island.

The UN-backed peace process is aimed at creating a unified state, with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot zones.

Greek Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have during bilateral talks tackled tough domestic issues like land swaps and the make up of a prospective future government.

While Mr Guterres said major progress had been made on resolving those questions, there were obstacles ahead on how to implement a deal and preserve it.

“You cannot expect miracles of immediate solutions, we are not looking for a quick fix,” he said on his first foreign trip since taking over the UN’s top job on January 1.

“We are looking for a solid sustainable solution for the Republic of Cyprus,” he added.

Thursday’s conference included top diplomats from Cyprus’s so-called guarantor powers: Greece, Turkey, and former colonial ruler Britain.

The arrival of foreign ministers Boris Johnson of Britain, Nikos Kotzias of Greece and Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey means years of efforts to reunify Cyprus have tackled security for the first time. Flanked by Mr Anastasiades and Mr Akinci, the UN chief said instruments were needed to implement an end to a conflict which has defied mediation for decades.

“Our goal here is to get the necessary results, and to do that we want to work seriously for the amount of time that is necessary,” he said. “We are facing so many situations of disaster, we badly need a symbol of hope. I strongly believe Cyprus can be the symbol hope of the beginning of 2017.”

The issue is pivotal to any deal to end the 43-year split because it strikes at the heart of fears among both Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

As the talks got under way, Greek Cypriot leader Mr Anastasiades floated the possibility of the creation of an international police force, without specifying who or how it might be set up or lead, a diplomat who attended the session said on condition of anonymity.

The ministers were hoping to make progress that could pave the way for their prime ministers to join, a possible signal that a wide-ranging accord also involving issues like governance, property and territory could be on tap. Britain is a former colonial overseer in Cyprus, and today operates two military bases on the island.

“The prime minister [Alexis Tsipras] will travel to Geneva if there are signs that a resolution is achievable,” Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said in Athens. A spokesman for Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim said he, too, was waiting for signs of progress from the foreign ministers.

Outside the UN compound, about 250 protesters including pro-Kurdish activists took the opportunity to demonstrate against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with some waving Kurdish flags, ripping up pictures of the Turkish leader, or chanting “Erdogan, Terrorist!”

Turkey stationed some 35,000 troops in the breakaway north in 1974 when it invaded following a coup by Greek Cypriots hoping to unify Cyprus with Greece. The minority Turkish Cypriots see Turkey’s military might as their sole insurance against any Greek Cypriot hostility if a peace deal unravels, and insist on keeping the troops as part of a final accord.

Greek Cypriots consider a Turkish troop presence as a threat and an instrument of Ankara’s influence on the island. Cypriot leaders from both sides have been leading a string of delicate, closed-door meetings in Geneva since Monday to iron out a host of outstanding issues. UN envoy for Cyprus Espen Barth Eide said Wednesday that progress has been made on a number of fronts, but that work remained.

The Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities exchanged maps on Wednesday outlining the zones that each community would control in a hoped-for federation, before the maps were placed in UN vault for safekeeping – a sign of the delicate nature of the proposals to both sides.

Neither Mr Anasastaides nor Mr Akinci have spoken publicly to reporters about the talks since Monday.

* Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters