UN-led Cyprus talks fail to make progress but due to reconvene

António Guterres addressing a press conference following the talks on Thursday. (KEYSTONE / Martial Trezzini)

The United Nations secretary general António Guterrres said on Thursday that informal talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots held in Geneva this week had failed to make progress as there was not enough common ground to resume negotiations on the island’s future.

The three-day meeting, which started on Tuesday aimed to assess whether the two sides could recommence peace negotiations after a four-year impasse and end the decades-long conflict between the rival factions.

"The truth is that at the end of our efforts, we have not yet found enough common ground to allow for the resumption of formal negotiations in relation to the settlement of the Cyprus problem," Guterres told a press conference at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Ahead of the meeting, both sides outlined their conflicting positions on the future of Cyprus, which was split in two in 1974 following a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Athens-inspired coup.

Greek Cypriots maintained that they would only accept a two-zone federation, which was the premise of the last UN-led talks held in Switzerland in 2017. However, Turkish Cypriots in the island’s north insist that they will now only accept a deal based on two separate states.

Summarising the positions of either side, Guterres said the Turkish Cypriots believe that past efforts to ensure a “bizonal, bicommunal federation” have been exhausted and they now deserve “equal international status” like that enjoyed by the internationally recognised government run by Greek Cypriots in the south. Turkey alone recognises the breakaway state of Northern Cyprus at present, or the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

The Greek Cypriots, on the other hand, held to their position for a federation “with political equality”, arguing that the Turkish proposals would be a violation of UN security council resolutions on the island.

Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu told reporters in Geneva that the Greek Cypriot side did not bring a new proposal and had sounded "like a broken record". Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, whose government is recognised both internationally and in the European Union, said the two-state proposals would never be accepted.

Guterres said neither side was willing to compromise during the summit. “As you can imagine, this was not an easy meeting,” he said.

However, the UN chief said talks will continue in the future. “I do not give up,” he said. “My agenda is strictly to fight for the security and wellbeing of the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots that deserve to live in peace and prosperity together.”

He said that diplomats had managed to agree that there would be another meeting of the 5 + 1 group in “probably two or three months” with the objective to again “move in the direction of reaching common ground to allow for formal negotiations to start”.

"Unfortunately today we are not able to reach the agreements that we would wish to reach, but we are not going to give up," he said.

Diplomats from Cyprus 'opposing sides were joined by the foreign ministers of the guarantor powers under the islands' independence treaty, Britain, Greece and Turkey.

The UK’s Dominic Raab welcomed the agreement to meet again in the future as a success. "The UK will continue to work with all parties to seek a fair and lasting settlement," he said on Twitter.