Erdogan angers US and EU with plan to formally split Cyprus

Ankara's recent proposal goes against international efforts to federalise the country

The EU, US and France have accused Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of a provocation after he pressed for a two-state solution for Cyprus during a visit to the Turkish-occupied north of the Mediterranean island.

"France deeply regrets this unilateral move which was not co-ordinated and constitutes a provocation," its foreign ministry said.

"It undermines the restoration of the confidence necessary for the urgent resumption of negotiations for a just and lasting settlement of the Cyprus question."

On his visit on Tuesday, Mr Erdogan backed a two-state solution in Cyprus between the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government in the south and the Turkish-occupied north, in a marked divergence from international efforts to reunify the island based on a bicommunal federation.

He also threw his weight behind plans to partially reopen Varosha, a coastal resort that was emptied of its original Greek Cypriot residents. On Wednesday afternoon, the Cypriot government said it would raise Mr Erdogan's remarks with the UN Security Council.

France, which is chairing the UN Security Council, will raise the issue at discussions there on Thursday, the ministry said.

"France reaffirms its attachment to the framework endorsed by the UN Security Council, based on a bizonal and bicommunal federation, offering the two communities full guarantees of their political equality," it said.

The island is divided between the Greek Cypriot-run Republic of Cyprus and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara.

Turkish troops seized Cyprus's northern third in 1974 in response to an aborted coup in Nicosia aimed at attaching the country to Greece.

Speaking at a parade to mark the 47th anniversary of the Turkish invasion that divided the island, Mr Erdogan took aim at failed UN efforts to reunite the two sides, saying "we don't have another 50 years to waste".

"No progress can be made in negotiations without accepting that there are two peoples and two states with equal status," he said.

Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, an Erdogan ally who supports a two-state solution rather than the federation long sought in UN-led negotiations, said an initial 3.5 per cent of Varosha would "be removed from its military status".

Mr Erdogan said this showed "how sensitively Turkish Cypriot authorities approach this issue".

The speech also sparked bickering with the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell, who said any such move was "an unacceptable unilateral decision".

Turkey's foreign ministry hit back, accusing Mr Borrell of "acting as a spokesperson or advocate for the Greek Cypriot administration".

The US condemned the plan by Mr Tatar and Mr Erdogan, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying the move "was clearly inconsistent" with UN Security Council resolutions.

"The United States views Turkish Cypriot actions in Varosha, with the support of Turkey, as provocative, unacceptable, and incompatible with their past commitments to engage constructively in settlement talks," Mr Blinken said.

To cheers from supporters waving Turkish flags, Mr Erdogan accused the Greek Cypriots of "blocking any route to a solution" with a "maximalist approach... that is disconnected from the reality".

He dismissed a warning this month from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that Brussels would "never accept" a two-state solution for Cyprus, an EU member since 2004.

In contrast to celebrations in the north, mournful sirens blasted across southern Nicosia at 5.30am to commemorate the invasion anniversary.

Anger at Varosha resort plan

Once a playground that hosted Hollywood celebrities, Varosha lay abandoned for decades.

But the Turkish army restored public access to parts of its beachfront last year, weeks ahead of Mr Tatar's election.

The UN Security Council responded by calling for a reversal of the decision and "for the parties to avoid any unilateral action that could raise tensions on the island".

Mr Erdogan visited Varosha the following month in a move denounced by the Republic of Cyprus as a "provocation without precedent".

Since then, a major thoroughfare has been cleared and workers raced to spruce up the street before a possible second visit.

Mr Erdogan insisted that moves to revive the town would respect property rights.

"We don't have an eye on anyone's land, rights or property, but nobody can touch the rights of Turkey or the TRNC," he said.

"Life will restart in Varosha," Mr Erdogan said, renewing an offer of financial compensation for Greek Cypriots who lost properties in 1974.

The internationally recognised government in Nicosia has stressed that Varosha is a "red line" and strongly condemned Mr Erdogan's previous visit to northern Cyprus.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's office on Tuesday "underscored its adherence to the strict implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions" in a phone call with Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, a statement in Moscow said.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias is due in Nicosia on Wednesday, hot on the heels of Mr Erdogan.

Updated: July 21st 2021, 3:31 PM