The US is pushing for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Turkey-backed plans to partially reopen the abandoned Cyprus resort town of Varosha.
The plans would allow settlement of the disputed area by Turkish Cypriots despite previous agreements that it should be administered by the UN.
“We had consultations yesterday at the UN and those will continue until we have a product,” Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told the Senate on Wednesday during a hearing on Turkey. She noted that the US is working with “like-minded” members to pass such a resolution at the Security Council.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ersin Tatar, President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, visited Varosha on Tuesday and announced the partial reopening. The move sparked immediate condemnation from Greece and Cyprus, which took the matter to the UN. Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides weighed in saying, "this is a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and will have a negative impact on efforts underway to restart talks."
“The United States views this action as provocative, unacceptable and detrimental to the prospects for the resumption of settlement talks,” Ms Nuland told the Senate. “We’re urging a reversal of this decision, including a phone call that I made to Ankara this morning.”
“A Cypriot-led, comprehensive settlement to reunify the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation is the only path to lasting peace and stability.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the Varosha decision on Twitter during Ms Nuland’s public testimony, noting that it violates previous UN Security Council resolutions.
One of the two Security Council resolutions in question “considers attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the United Nations”.
About 17,000 Cypriots fled Varosha in 1974 after Turkey invaded and occupied the northern half of the island in the aftermath of a short-lived coup backed by Greece.
The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, noted that members of the 15-nation council had discussed Varosha behind closed doors on Wednesday.
Diplomats from China, India, Ireland and other nations used social media to express concern over the move by Turkish Cypriot officials, but it remained unclear what action the UN body would take.
China’s deputy ambassador, Geng Shuang, said the move was “inappropriate, nonconstructive and undermines the efforts to seek a negotiated settlement of the Cyprus issue”.
Speaking briefly to reporters, Elizabeth Spehar, the UN envoy to Cyprus, said she rejected “unilateral” moves and expressed “deep concern over recent developments” that would worsen relations between the two sides.
The UN-facilitated peace talks on Cyprus have sought to reunify the island. However the mediated talks aimed at reuniting Cyprus have all ended in failure, with the last push for a peace deal in July 2017 ending in acrimony.
UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is deeply concerned by the decision by the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey.
"The Secretary-General has repeatedly called on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that provoke tensions and may compromise the ongoing efforts to seek common ground between the parties towards a lasting settlement of the Cyprus issue," Mr Haq said.
But Mr Erdogan and Mr Tatar have doubled down on insisting that the decades-long dispute be resolved through a two-state solution, seeking international recognition for Northern Cyprus.
Greek Cypriots reject a two-state deal that would accord sovereign status to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state that only Ankara recognises. The Turkish occupation of the northern part of the island has been declared illegal under international law.