United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced on Friday the collapse of the talks to reunify the divided island of Cyprus, marking a dramatic end to more than two years of efforts.
“I’m very sorry to tell you that despite the very strong commitment and engagement of all the delegations and different parties … the conference on Cyprus was closed without an agreement being reached,” Guterres told a news conference after a stormy last session.
The talks collapsed amid anger and recriminations in the early hours of Friday, marking the end of a process seen as the most promising in generations to heal decades of conflict that erupted when the island was split between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations in 1974.
Guterres had flown in on Thursday to press Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to seal a deal reuniting the east Mediterranean island, while US Vice President Mike Pence had phoned to urge them to “seize this historic opportunity”.
Diplomatic efforts to reunite Cyprus have failed since the island was riven in a 1974 Turkish army invasion triggered by a coup by Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece.
Security arrangements for an envisioned federal Cyprus were the linchpin to a reunification deal.
The issue revolves around the more than 35,000 troops that Turkey has kept in the island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot north since 1974, when it invaded following a coup mounted by supporters of uniting Cyprus with Greece.
Greek Cypriots in the island’s internationally recognized south perceive the Turkish soldiers as a threat and want them to leave. The island’s minority Turkish Cypriots want them to stay as their protectors.
The week of talks in the Swiss Alps, which the United Nations said was the “the best chance” for a deal, ground to a halt as the two sides failed to overcome final obstacles.
Diplomats said Turkey had appeared to be offering little to Greek Cypriots wanting a full withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island, although the Greek Cypriots had indicated readiness to make concessions on Turkish Cypriot demands for a rotating presidency, the other key issue.
Guterres finally called a halt at 2 a.m. after a session marred by yelling and drama, a source close to the negotiations said.
“Unfortunately… an agreement was not possible, and the conference was closed without the possibility to bring a solution to this dramatic and long-lasting problem,” Guterres said.
“That doesn’t mean that other initiatives cannot be developed in order to address the Cyprus problem,” he added.
Guterres declined to elaborate on what exactly had caused the collapse, but said there was still a wide gap between the two delegations on a number of questions.
Without a fallback option, it was unclear what, if any, peace process could continue. Reunification attempts have always been under the umbrella of the United Nations, which has one of its longest-serving peacekeeping forces on the island.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias had been attending the peace talks at the Swiss Alpine resort of Crans-Montana for a week, spoke of different options.
“This outcome shows the impossibility of reaching a settlement within the parameters of the Good Offices Mission,” Cavusoglu wrote on his twitter feed, using a term referring to the UN.
“No use in insisting on them.”
Greek Cypriots, due to launch gas drilling off the island in coming weeks that Turkey opposes, pointed the finger of blame at the Turkish side.
Nicos Christodoulides, spokesman for the Greek Cypriot government, said Turkey had refused to relinquish its intervention rights on Cyprus or the presence of troops on the island.
“Tonight’s development is in no way positive, but it is not the end of the road either,” he said, without elaborating.
“The existing, unacceptable situation can’t be Cyprus’ future and the president will redouble his efforts,” Christodoulides said.
He faulted Turkey’s “obsession” with having a troop presence in Cyprus and the right to militarily intervene. He said Turkish positions on other key issues deviated from a UN framework and “were such that they could not be accepted under any circumstances.”
Kotzias posted on his personal Twitter account that it wasn’t possible to accept Turkey’s right to militarily intervene on the whole of Cyprus.
“The dream and the plan for solving the Cyprus problem remain alive,” said Kotzias.
Other key disagreements were on how much territory would make up the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot federal zones.
Another key difference was Turkey’s insistence that a peace accord grant Turkish nationals the right to relocate and transfer money, services and goods to a reunified Cyprus. Greek Cypriots were reluctant to cede unregulated access to Turkish nationals over concerns that the small island of 1.1 million people would be overwhelmed economically and demographically.